Film Review: Loud, Incoherent “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga”

furiosa mad max saga 2024 - movie poster one sheetWe humans have an obsession with the apocalypse and post-apocalyptic worlds, as shared in stories that go back as far as recorded human history. Even our religious beliefs revolve around a cataclysmic end-time, with each of us suffering the consequences of our lifestyles and behaviors. But what if the post-apocalyptic world is just a lawless wasteland, a jungle ruled by those with the most power and least scruples? That’s what propelled the low-budget indie 1979 film Mad Max into the limelight, along with its handsome young hero Mel Gibson. He was 23 when the film was released and the role lit the fuse of his extraordinary acting career.

But the gas-fueled and cobbled-together Frankeinstein’s Monster vehicle chaos of the Australian outback was a star in itself too, offering a frightening vista and a world where every viewer inevitably asked themselves how would I fare in that madness? It has since inspired many other post-apocalyptic films and two sequels, 1981’s Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior and 1985’s Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome. The franchise went dormant for thirty years until the surprisingly successful 2015 release of Mad Max: Fury Road, with Tom Hardy taking over the title role. But Fury Road wasn’t about Max at all, but instead about Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a tough-as-nails woman who was a survivor in a land of madness where women were kept penned in as breeders or milk producers, or abandoned to the wastelands as the desperately poor Wretched.

The newest film in the Mad Max world is Furiosa (okay, technically it goes by the clumsy name of Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, but I’m just going to call it Furiosa for simplicity) and it explores the backstory of Furiosa (now played by Anya Taylor-Joy, rather than Charlize Theron) after the apocalypse has happened but before the story of Fury Road.

In a common cinematic trope, the good people live in an idyllic oasis land while the villains are nomads, getting by on whatever sustenance they can hunt or steal. Since it’s the Mad Max universe, they steal people and goods, not just food. It is a post-apocalyptic nightmare world, after all. Young Furiosa (Alyla Browne) lives in a peaceful valley called The Green Place of Many Mothers along with her mother and many other families. The land provides, somehow, and they all get by, until she’s taken by a roving group of bandits from the Biker Horde. Mom Mary Jo Bassa (Charlee Fraser) goes after the gang to rescue her little hellion, a Woman On A Mission. She ends up in the clutches of Biker Horde leader and Warlord Dementus (Chris Helmsworth). Then it’s Furiosa who ends up dragooned into the gang, seemingly never to see The Green Place again.

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Furiosa (Taylor-Joy) looking her most bad-ass, from “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga”

Zoom forward a decade or two and the now young adult Furiosa (Taylor-Joy) is still in the clutches of Dementus. Until they encounter The Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme), head of The Citadel. The Citadel featured prominently in Fury Road and appears identical in this new prequel movie. There’s also Gastown where everyone trades for “guzzolene” and Bullet Farm where ammunition is created. Dementus wants to bring it all down and take over everywhere, so he plans to set the warlords against each other. Meanwhile, Furiosa is planning her own independence. When she meets Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke) she’s no longer alone; can he help her achieve freedom?

The Mad Max universe is compelling in a dirty, gas-powered way and the visuals in Furiosa are splendid – this is a film to see in IMAX – but once you look past the roaring vehicles and the long shots of scroungy characters slogging across endless desert, the story itself is banal at best. It’s a children’s cautionary tale of the apocalypse to remind them to turn off lights when they leave a room and eat their vegetables lest they end up in the world of Mad Max!

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Dementus (Hemsworth) and his amazing chariot, from “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga”

But cool cars only go so far and after a while, it’s hard to miss both the weakness of the story and the completely unbelievable performance that young Anya Taylor-Joy delivers as Furiosa. Charlize Theron had a fierceness about her in the 2015 film that made her believable. She was a woman who had lost it all and had a complete f* it and f* you attitude, a warrior for women’s freedom in the most horrific world imaginable. Taylor-Joy just doesn’t have the acting chops to deliver a similarly angry and intense performance that ends up completely derailing the film; if Furiosa isn’t, well, furious, what are we left with? A slim, beautiful woman trying to convince us she’d last even 24 hours in this burly, macho, ultra-tough universe?

Conversely, while Chris Hemsworth is probably too nice an actor to really inhabit the madness of his role as the Warlord Dr Dementus, he is nonetheless a far more engaging character who tends to steal every scene he’s on camera. He’s interesting in a completely unhinged way so that we’re never sure what he’s going to do next. When Dementus is at his most bloodthirsty and cruel, however, it’s hard not to see Hemsworth grinning at the over-the-top role.

The story, the ideas of how people are tortured and subjugated, and the bizarre economics of the post-apocalyptic world, all of come across as cartoonish and just as illogical as they did in the original 1979 film. All can be forgiven in the interest of spectacle. The trucks are truly a delight to see, there’s no question that the creators had a wonderful time building them (blowtorches galore!) and then creating all the fantastic foley sounds. VROOOOOOM! The setting is stunning too, with director George Miller taking advantage of that with lots of long shots. Epic. But Furiosa with a mildly miffed lead who can’t convey fury to save her life? It certainly wasn’t worth sitting in a theater chair for two and a half hours.

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dave taylor vertigo film swirl backgroundPlanet Dave is run by Dave Taylor, who has been writing about film, cars, games, and his lifestyle for many years. He's based in Boulder, Colorado and assures readers he's only occasionally falling into a gravity well or temporal distortion field.

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