Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024)

Directed by George Miller

As the world fell, young Furiosa is snatched from the Green Place of Many Mothers and falls into the hands of a great Biker Horde led by the Warlord Dementus. Sweeping through the Wasteland they come across the Citadel presided over by The Immortan Joe. While the two Tyrants war for dominance, Furiosa must survive many trials as she puts together the means to find her way home.

Twice during Furiosa we are shown John William Waterhouse's 1896 Hylas and the Nymphs, which depicts the titular Argonaut being abducted by nymphs whilst looking for fresh water. In the painting, Hylas is being enticed to enter the water by the sly, treacherous and (beautiful) nymphs from which he will never return. It seems an apposite choice for the male-dominated post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max, where men have, at best, a highly-suspicious view of women and feminine sexuality. It also slyly suggests that the search for the abundant 'Green Place' is either a myth to begin with or is, at the very least, a temptation that'll get you killed. The deployment of Waterhouse's homage to classical antiquity might also lead us to think that Furiosa is the revenge-soaked Iliad to Fury Road's Odyssey across the desert in order to return home. Nevertheless, if George Miller believes himself as part of a cinematic Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, it is not clear what era of movie-making he would like Hollywood to return.

Anyway, Furiosa is obviously a lot of fun, but there's no way to get around the fact that it's just not as satisfying as Fury Road. The episodic nature of the movie doesn't strike the right 'epic' note from the start, and as the titles of the sections get increasingly overblown, this narrative device begins to take on a sense of unearned self-importance. This becomes especially acute when the entire history of war is consigned to a montage with a portentous voiceover, but it is at least consistently maintained through to the final showdown with Dementus (a Chris Hemsworth that "never quite falls over but you can feel him teetering on the edge of a Jack Sparrow performance": this ending feels both overextended and ultimately hollow, when it should by all rights be a cathartic moment of revenge for the protagonist.

More fundamentally though, Furiosa rarely feels dangerous, not least of all because it finds too much comfort in the imagery, motifs and stylistic tics of its predecessor (the frequent moments of hokey physics subliminally eat away at the idea of material consequences for our characters as well). No, what really saps this film of danger is that we always knew how it was going to end. It should always be remembered that knowing must happen by the end of a film can be a powerful force in a narrative. Sunset Boulevard (1950) conveys a grave, fatalistic view of Hollywood throughout by letting us know in the opening sequence that Joe will end up face-down in that swimming pool by the end of the movie. But in Furiosa, there is no such equivalent sense of destiny and providence, and there are just a few too many moments where we are shown the origin of something we will see 'later' in Fury Road. More problematically, a prequel robs Furiosa of her sense of agency, imposing invisible narrative limits on her ability to pursue her own goals — rather, she must in some sense pursue George Miller's goals, putting this entry in the franchise at odds with the cathartic and refreshing feminist overtones of Fury Road.

Why is this a prequel anyway? Not dissimilar to how often the tidbit that Killers of the Flower Moon (2023) was rewritten from the perspective of the Osage was articulated by the press, the much-bruited about explanation that Miller had already written Furiosa's backstory might be completely true. But it also feels a bit too convenient an explanation to include in the press pack in order to mitigate against the inevitable questions of why a prequel was necessary in the first place... beyond economic concerns, of course.

There are many nice touches, however. Apart from the aforesaid John William Waterhouse canvasdrop, there's surely a Lawrence of Arabia moment when a camel substitute appears as a tiny speck on the horizon and slowly comes into view. (This itself was probably a nod to John Wayne's entry in The Searchers.) There's also what I think was a wink towards Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) when Furiosa is underneath the War Pig, too. Speaking of extratextual references, it's always nice to see a narrative correctly deploy an Edenic apple, even though it results in Furiosa being abducted from her garden of plenty rather than being banished.

The movie isn't made entirely in the edit, but despite all the praises heaped on Miller himself, we should commend the editing by Miller's wife, Margaret Sixel. Anyway, Furiosa is definitely worth seeing at the biggest and loudest cinema you can get your hands on, as I suspect that it will be subject to severe diminishing returns when the (quite genuinely electrifying) spectacle will be muted by watching it on a TV screen.

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Much of the action in Furiosa derives from trucks driving bumpily from one fortress to the next, transporting cabbages and other assorted necessities in an allegedly exciting fashion. If you love commuting, this is the movie for you. [For] a hot minute, Furiosa has a love interest, Tom Burke’s rebellious daredevil Praetorian Jack. But that sub-thread gets scrubbed quickly; wouldn’t want this he-man movie to get too girly.

Stephanie Zacharek (Time)

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Not only did it feel like something intensely personal was at stake in [Fury Road], but in a movie with such a kamikaze sense of drama—in which it seemed possible that anything could happen at any time—there was a genuine tremble of anxiety around her fate. With Furiosa, we’re simply not worried about what will happen in the same way, to the point that even something as visceral—and symbolically potent—as the character’s loss of a limb becomes insulated from authentic shock. The injury becomes more like a piece of continuity to be checked off.

Adam Nayman (The Ringer)