Furiosa, and the makings of a great prequel

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As George Miller’s oil and blood-fuelled Furiosa hits the screens, we ponder what makes a great prequel. 

Mild spoilers for The First Omen. 

There are a lot of bad prequels. There are some good prequels, but a great prequel is a rare thing to come across. They’re like a rare animal, the unicorns of cinema. Some wonder if such a thing even exists, but when you do watch one, it’s really rather something.  

George Miller’s Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga might just be one, a prequel which somehow manages to justify its existence and repeat the exhilarating sense of time and place as Mad Max: Fury Road. I’d be surprised if we saw another action film as handsomely made as Furiosa in 2024. Or 2025. Or 2026.

Prequels are an easy sell for studios, but a hard sell for audiences. For studios, they’re an easy way to make money with relatively little effort. These films often ride on the success of their predecessors, but audiences can sniff a dud a mile away. 

furiosa review
Credit: Warner Bros.

Are there any prequels more well-known than the Star Wars prequel trilogy? Starting with 1999’s The Phantom Menace, the prequels offered us detailed insight into how an innocent young boy would go on to become cinema’s most notorious villain. While the years have been particularly kind to The Phantom Menace, the trilogy as a whole isn’t exactly the franchise’s best offerings.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story also acts as a prequel and one that has only one possible ending. The film follows a group of rebels who set about stealing the plans of the Death Star, something that ultimately leads to the events of Star Wars: A New Hope. Rogue One was critically acclaimed and fans adore it to this day. The ending of the film remains one of the most powerful examples of what a really good prequel can do.

Solo: A Star Wars Story – Han Solo’s own origin film – received a much more lukewarm reception. Many found the film to lack stakes and it failed to provide any real insight into Solo’s origins whereas Rogue One felt like its own standalone film as well as an important piece of the overall Star Wars puzzle.

On the Disney+ side of things, recent series outings have also been more interested in the past than in the post-Rey world. Andor follows Rogue One’s Cassian Andor five years before he would team up with Jyn Erso to steal the Death Star plans. The upcoming The Acolyte will also explore the High Republic era of the galaxy far, far away.

Alien Vs. Predator is another great example of a prequel gone wrong. The film acted as a cross-over between two beloved sci-fi franchises, but it mostly came across as a cash-grabbing effort with not a lot of creativity. Did we really need to see Predators hunting Xenomorphs over a 100 years before the events of Alien? No, not really and the film also failed to really add anything meaningful to the overall world of Alien or The Predator. 

Interestingly, both franchises have really good, exciting prequels in their canon. Dan Trachtenberg’s Prey managed to find a fresh angle to the myth and lore of The Predator and whatever you might think of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, it’s hard to deny that they meaningfully explore some unanswered questions about the central monster. 

Ti West’s Pearl is another fascinatingly unique prequel which somehow exceeds its predecessor in story and style. If X was a grimy salute to the horror films of the 1970s, Pearl is a tribute to the Technicolor melodramas of the 1950s. Mia Goth returns to portray the titular villain as a young, troubled woman, giving us context on how she might grow up to be such a bitter, violent old woman with an obsession with youth and sexuality. 

Unsurprisingly, the horror genre is rife with origin stories. Filmmakers have always been drawn to the origins of monsters and what drives them. The Texas Chansaw Massacre has had two origin stories within its nine film run so far. In 2006, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning gave us insight on how and why Leatherface is so keen on wearing people’s skin and in 2017, French filmmakers Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo offered us an alternative take on the character’s lore with Leatherface

Mia Goth in Pearl
Mia Goth in Pearl. Credit: Universal Pictures

Earlier this year, The First Omen impressed with its frightening, politically charged take on what could have led to the events of The Omen. The First Omen is a first class horror film – until the final five minutes. The final moments of the otherwise excellent film forcefully create a connection to the original film, but also set the stage for a sequel. It’s awkward and unnecessary; the audience is already clued in on how the films are connected and such an ending only talks down to us. 

It’s not just horror that is exploring the origins of villains. Last year’s Hunger Games: The Ballad Of Songbirds And Snakes is also an example of a prequel done right. Granted, filmmaker Francis Lawrence had Suzanne Collins’ novel to guide him through Panem way before Katniss Everdeen stepped foot in a Hunger Games arena. 

The Ballad Of Songbirds And Snakes served as an origin story for the villainous President Snow, so the challenge for Lawrence – and any director tackling a prequel – was how to get the audience to care when we know the outcome. In our interview with him, Lawrence spoke specifically about showing Snow’s troubles as a young man, the horrible conditions he was living in and his family’s downfall to get the audience on his side quickly. 

In fact, this is probably the most difficult aspect of making a prequel. Knowing the ending, or at least where the character or story will end up eventually, inevitably takes away some of the narrative tension.

Furiosa’s narrative slightly suffers from this exact problem, but thankfully, George Miller throws everything but the kitchen sink at the screen, creating dizzying chase sequences so it’s relatively easy to forget that we already know that Furiosa will end up looking like Charlize Theron and sporting a pretty cool metal arm. 

Although Renny Harlin’s The Strangers: Chapter 1 isn’t a prequel per se, Harlin did chat to us about the difficulty of your audience knowing where the film will end. Long before the film actually hit screens, Lionsgate announced that Chapter 1 would be the first film in a trilogy, implying that Madelaine Petsch’s Maya might just survive the horrors of the first film. Harlin also promised the trilogy would explore why the masked killers do what they do, angering fans of the original The Strangers where the terror came from not knowing why they would torture and harass a couple other than the chilling explanation that “you were home”.

“I’m sure the audience knows that she will survive [Chapter 1] but we put her through such a wringer so that the question becomes, how does she survive and what happens to her,” Harlin said. This logic can also be applied to Furiosa specifically. We know the titular heroine, played by Alyla Browne and Anya Taylor-Joy as a child and as a young woman respectively, will survive the high calibre car chases and eventually even lose her arm, but we go into the film wondering, how does she manage it all and exactly how does that arm come loose.

The same can also be used against Furiosa, and any other prequel. Explaining exactly how Fury Road’s tough-as-nails Furiosa came to have a metal arm or how she ended up in the Citadel takes away from the mystique of the character. Can anything really match all the wild and varied scenarios and explanations we thought about during Fury Road? Probably not, but kudos for Miller for trying. 

Making a great prequel is kind of like trying to bake the perfect loaf of bread. You need specific ingredients to make your bread rise and taste nice, but you can veer a little off-course and add something the recipe doesn’t call for. However, if you mess up the details or miss a crucial step, your bread will be dense and inedible. It’s the same with making a prequel. You need the right ingredients and the technical ability to pull it all off. 

Now, excuse us, we suddenly really crave fresh bread…

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is in cinemas now. 

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