Film reviews and more since 2009

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024) review

Dir. George Miller

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★★½

For a lesser blockbuster, the almost-immediate announcement that Mad Max: Fury Road would be followed by a prequel to a character who had no involvement in the previous three movies would’ve been grounds for disappointment. It just so happens that Fury Road felt—no, was—a generational action movie. A once-in-a-blue-moon revelation that simultaneously solidified George Miller as a filmmaker in a class all his own, and made nearly every Marvel and DC property release thereafter feel like child’s play to some degree.

The long-awaited Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is another white-knuckle knockout-punch of a movie. As juicy as the thought of a prequel to the character Charlize Theron embodied so perfectly that she arguably overshadowed the already-familiar Max Rockatansky was, the fact remained that it was going to follow one of the toughest acts possible. Thankfully, Miller is wired differently. He gifts us a film that’s as focused on its titular character’s tragic backstory and underlying desperation in her quest for vengeance while also delivering another manic, heavy metal thrill-ride that should be praised at least in nearly equal measure to that of its predecessor.

Initially, Miller thought to have Theron reprise the role of Furiosa and use de-aging technology to make her look younger. Eventually, he became disinterested in processing the face of one of Fury Road‘s biggest stars, and instead took the approach to have two different women play the character. Alyla Browne is Furiosa as a young girl, whose saga takes up most of the first hour. From there, Furiosa grows up to be Anya Taylor-Joy in a fierce performance with limited dialog. Before you even ask, there is an oh-so brief cameo from Max, played by Jacob Tumuri, Tom Hardy’s stunt-double in Fury Road.

Several familiar faces from the previous film return, including John Howard as The People Eater, Nathan Jones as Rictus, and Angus Sampson as The Organic Mechanic. Lachy Hulme assumes the role of the grotesque villain, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, the original performer, died in 2020). Hulme is electric as one of the most heinous looking creatures ever put on-screen, but there’s an even bigger villain at the core of the movie, and you might just hear his name circulate when it comes time for Oscar season.

Dropping us back into the vast desert known as “the Wasteland,” Furiosa opens with its titular character being kidnapped by a group of bikers and taken to meet Dementus (Chris Hemsworth), who is assembling a group of obedient killers. Dementus wants to learn where Furiosa lives, but she won’t speak. As a result, Furiosa is forced to watch her mother’s (Charlee Fraser) horrific execution before Dementus’ army. From there, she becomes part of a package deal, along with food and fuel, sold to Immortan Joe. She disguises herself as a boy in the Citadel, working alongside Pretorian Jack (Tom Burke), a caravan driver who traffics gas, bullets, and other goods across the Wasteland. Throughout her entire childhood and adolescence, she silently vows to kill Dementus and relocate to the fabled “Green Place,” where life isn’t so bleak.

Like Fury Road, Furiosa has numerous sequences in which gargantuan vehicles fly through the sandy terrain of the dessert. While there is more exposition and attention-to-detail paid to Furiosa’s character, writers Miller and Nico Lathouris remain committed to their mission of assuring that the so-called “downtime” in the story only features what’s necessary in order to further the plot. This move has only become more welcome as blockbusters continue to get longer and more of them somehow manage to say less than before.

Anya Taylor-Joy is the ideal teenage Furiosa, and her largely wordless performance makes you watch in awe of how she commands the screen with her eyes and rapid reactions to peril. Alyla Browne is also captivating as the younger version of our heroine, even as she’s shuffled around like luggage once Dementus forces her to be his adopted daughter. Speaking of Dementus, Chris Hemsworth works wonders playing against type. He’s dark and unruly, occasionally funny, but also downright dastardly. At one point, he delivers a monologue that might be enough to make his biggest turn as a villain an Oscar-worthy one.

Where Fury Road is about as flawless as you can get, let alone expect, from an action film, Furiosa does have a couple weak points. For one, the CGI is more visible, particularly during fiery explosions, and some rather inexcusably computer-rendered dogs. It’s enough to distract for a moment, but per usual, Miller has so much going on that it’s not a lasting issue. I might be on an island with this gripe, but Tom Holkenborg’s score doesn’t feel as impacting this go-round. Where his last work was a tour-de-force in crunchy guitar riffs, invigorating metal jams, and operatic synths when things turned somber, Furiosa‘s music feels much more repetitive as opposed to ancillary to the excitement.

If Fury Road was “a film that pulsates with life and energy, taking one exhilarating, cacophonous circumstance after another and bathing it in road rage, gasoline, and unbridled chaos,” as I claimed in my original review, then Furiosa merges the exhilaration with profound emotion. Furiosa’s plight is heartbreaking, and Miller and Lathouris make us feel every point of devastation, from the loss of her mother, to the loss of her limb. Her successful maneuvers through chaos make her as laudable as her convictions, and the fact that we can get a strong female character who doesn’t need to tell us she’s a strong female character provides an example for other filmmakers to (hopefully) use in the future.

Oh, what a lovely day when a highly anticipated, nine-figure film is more than just a compilation of rapidly improving special effects and is instead another symphony of aesthetics converged with high-level storytelling and unbridled artistry. What a lovely day indeed.

NOTE: Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is now playing exclusively in theaters.

NOTE II: Catch my review of Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga on my podcast Sleepless with Steve:

My review of Mad Max
My review of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
My review of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome
My review of Mad Max: Fury Road

Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Burke, Alyla Browne, Lachy Hulme, Nathan Jones, Josh Helman, John Howard, Angus Sampson, Charlee Fraser, Quaden Bayles, Daniel Webber, Jacob Tomuri, and Elsa Pataky. Directed by: George Miller.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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