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Shiny and Chrome: A review of George Miller’s “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga”

When the lights go out for the last time, the fabric of society starts to unravel faster and faster like an avalanche picking up speed, and the sawed-off 12 gauge and Bowie knife become standard issue grocery-getters, it’ll all probably look shockingly like George Miller’s vision of the not-too-distant future in “Furiosa.”

The latest entry in the Mad Max saga, “Furiosa” is the first not to feature the titular ex-cop turned “road warrior searching for a righteous cause.” Instead, Miller has focused the camera on Anya Taylor-Joy’s Imperator Furiosa, the younger version of the character Charlize Theron played to buzzcutted sharpshooting brilliance in 2015’s “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

Miller, an Australian auteur and former surgeon, helped pioneer Aussie New Wave cinema with 1979’s “Mad Max,” the first entry in the franchise – and a career-maker for a young Mel Gibson. Shot on a shoestring budget, “Mad Max” depicts a world on the verge of slipping over the edge into anarchy – but nobody’s really accepted it yet, except for gangs of marauding bikers raping and pillaging their way across the Outback.

“The Road Warrior,” the 1981 follow-up, depicts a world after economic collapse – the apocalypse isn’t clearly defined, but it’s left leather clad masochists driving fucked-up looking jalopies in search of fuel and resources. “Beyond Thunderdome,” the third entry in the original trilogy, is… not exactly bad, but deviates from the shoestring budget, lean, mean ethos that had come to define the Mad Max franchise up to that point.

Tying them all together is Mel Gibson’s Max, a tough, laconic former cop, plagued by the murder of his wife and son by psychotic bikers in the first movie. In “Road Warrior,” he helps liberate an oil refinery from wasteland bandits, and in “Thunderdome,” he frees a post-apocalyptic town and acts as a pseudo-father figure to some orphans. They’re great – Gibson is roguishly charming and deeply believable as a roving apocalyptic figure of righteous destruction, and he drives a cool-ass car with a blower on the top and a V8 under the hood.

In 2015, Tom Hardy (of Peaky Blinders and Dark Knight Rises fame) took over for Gibson as the newest iteration of Max in “Fury Road.” Hardy turned up the scruff, turned down the dialogue, and most importantly, became perhaps the hardest man on the face of the bombed-out planet to kill as he punched, kicked, ran over, disemboweled, and shot hundreds of bikers, drivers, and berserkers alike.

Is “Fury Road” a little light on plot?

Probably.

Does it make up for it with practical effects, high explosives, and this guy?

Absolutely.

It’s one of my favorite movies of all time, and I maintain the opinion that if you watch five minutes of Miller’s ballet-like car chases and aren’t impressed, there’s something deeply wrong with you.

“Furiosa” is a continuation on the Mad-Maxian theme of big, fast, loud, and sometimes flaming – albeit in a much stranger, darker, gothic way. Miller takes the film – which serves as a prequel to “Fury Road” – in new, strange, often disturbing directions, some of which are reminiscent of the early days of the franchise, where all the car crashes were real, the blood on the asphalt might have been too, and the themes of loss, love, fear, and loathing all swirled and roiled on the film’s surface like an oil slick.

Anya Taylor-Joy, who shone in 2022’s “The Northman” and the Netflix miniseries “The Queen’s Gambit” was tapped to play a younger version of Theron’s Furiosa. Captured by bikers in the first few minutes of the film, she spends the first hour of the movie being passed from hand to bike, eventually ending up in the Citadel – the fortress of apocalyptic desert warlord (and villain of “Fury Road”) Immortan Joe. Along the way, she gains a thirst for vengeance against Dementus, the leader of a horde of locust-like bikers, and a knowledge of all things mechanical after working in the Citadel’s garage as a mechanic (or Blackthumb, in the weird Aussie-speak/apocalypse dialect that make Miller’s films sing.)

Taylor-Joy does the job of playing an established character admirably. As the movie progresses, anyone who’s seen “Fury Road” will start to recognize her taking on the mannerisms and style of Theron’s older Furiosa, til the two begin to blend together. It’s challenging work, and watching her progress from a small girl kidnapped by bandits into a hardened, capably violent soldier with a drive for revenge against a post-apocalyptic army of revhead freaks is really interesting to see. 

On the other side of the moral compass, Chris Hemsworth plays Dementus, a truly demented (hey, that’s where the name comes from!) biker with a Portland-hipster mustache and a love for medieval torture updated for the diesel age. Hemsworth breathes life into the character, playing him almost as an amalgamation of all three Willy Wonkas (Wilder, Depp, and Chalamet) with a little Texas Chainsaw thrown in for good measure.

It’s a truly delightful performance to watch, and even among the insane Burning Man machineheads with which “Furiosa” is peppered, Dementus stands out as one of the wildest. After being pigeonholed as Thor for the past million years or however long they’ve been cranking out the Marvel slop (and let’s be real, there are worse things to be pigeonholed as than a blonde Norse sex symbol) Hemsworth finally gets a chance to breathe and let loose a little – and he takes full advantage of it.

Backing the two leads up are a gallery of supporting characters, all of whom are incredible to see, even if only for a minute or two. Tom Burke’s Praetorian Jack, a driver for Immortan Joe’s massive war rig (and a stand-in for Max) teaches Furiosa the tactics and skills necessary for “road war” with a capable, calm efficiency. Their relationship (and subsequent tragedy) illustrates the cold reality of life in the wasteland.

The Octoboss, Dementus’s lieutenant (played by the ghoulishly competent Goran Kleut) brings an air of theatricality to the biker horde, trailing a huge black tentacled kite behind his street bike, and eventually taking to the air in it, propelled by a paramotor. The sequence where the War Rig, Joe’s chromed out semi truck, is attacked from above is one of the cooler things Miller has ever put to film.

And faces familiar to those who’ve seen “Fury Road” are equally compelling – warlords Immortan Joe, the Bullet Farmer, and the People Eater, as well as Joe’s two freakish sons (and Beavis and Butthead lookalikes) Rictus and Scrotus, help fill out the cast of antagonists. Miller’s gift for character names makes even minor characters compelling, if for no other reason than their moniker trips off the tongue with ease: the Organic Mechanic, Valkyrie, Toe Jam, the History Man, Pissboy (who tops up the War Rig’s overheating radiators with, you guessed it, a jug of his own urine)… even if they get one or two lines, they leave an impression on you. Miller’s a creative archetype like no other, and there’s a reason this franchise has lasted as long as it has with such success.

A major contributor to that success is the vehicles. Ah, the vehicles – tricked out monster trucks, welded together dune buggies, squatted Plymouth Valiants in imitation of El Caminos, Volkswagen vans connected together in a strange rusty centipede, a chariot of rotary engine motorcycles driven by actual reins like it’s nuclear “Spartacus,” enormous semitrucks defended by machine guns and flamethrowers – it’s a testosterone-fueled nitro-sucking orgy of engine noises, exhaust fumes, and explosions. For a society ruled by scarcity, some would say, why do they drive such gas hogs that shoot flame out the exhaust pipes for seemingly no other reason than “because they can”?

To that, I would respond: because it looks cool as fuck.

“Furiosa’s” plot is one of revenge and rebirth – I won’t spoil it here, because this is a movie that needs to be seen on the big screen – but any critiques of “Fury Road” that might be levelled at it as a “two hour long chase scene” are invalid when applied to its prequel. This movie has a beginning, a middle, and a grisly end, and those who need things like “plot” and “story” can breathe easy because it’s a good one.

It’s not perfect; the more gratuitous use of CGI sets it off from “Fury Road,” which was notable for its extensive use of practical effects and minimal reliance on computer graphics. Additionally, part of what made Miller’s “Mad Max” franchise great is the lack of explanation. He would show you something – a jacked-up monster truck with a guy strapped to the front, an altar of steering wheels surrounded by pale soldiers praising the V8 engine, a feudal warlord clad in a jock strap and a hockey mask – and not go into the details of why it was there. He trusted you to figure it out, or barring that, to accept it and factor it into your understanding of the post-apocalyptic desert as a strange and alien place.

Here, Miller feels a tad overburdened with trying to explain the things he showed us in “Fury Road.” The War Rig feels a little less intimidating once you’ve seen it built. Immortan Joe seems less like a Viking warlord once you’ve seen him negotiating trade routes with his partners. And even Furiosa, the quintessential stoic desert badass, loses a little of her mystique when you find out where she’s from, why she’s like that, and even how she lost her arm. It doesn’t ruin the movie, by any means – but it does detract a little from what made its predecessors great.

With that said, “Furiosa” is another worthy addition to the Mad Max canon. George Miller has lost none of the spark that came roaring onto the screen and crashing through a milk truck in 1979. His unique vision, eye for detail, and “more is more” ethos serve this movie well, and, God willing, spread through word of mouth and bump up the box office numbers a little. I want “Mad Max: Wasteland,” I want the Octoboss stand-alone story, I want Pissboy to have his own TV show. And who else to make it but a demented Australian ex-ER surgeon?

Jacob Hersh is studying law at the University of Idaho. He occasionally does movie reviews and writes weird columns for the Landmine to get extra money for beer. 

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Hugh Wade
1 month ago

Ok, I’m going!