Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga review | An odyssey of blood and oil

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Anya Taylor-Joy and Chris Hemsworth bring their all in a worthy successor to Fury Road’s crown. Here’s our Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga review.

Almost a decade after Mad Max: Fury Road, it’s easy to imagine we’re taking George Miller for granted. His 2015 film took his 36-year-old franchise and made one of the freshest, most exhilarating action movies of the decade. Its combination of rigorous, action-led storytelling and relentless pace still feels like a magic trick – I have genuinely no idea how he did it.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga proves Miller’s petrol-drenched masterpiece wasn’t a one-off. But no matter how impressive a trick is, it’s still not quite as impressive the second time round. “It’s no Fury Road”, it’s tempting to scoff, even as we watch what will probably prove to be the most impressive feat of action cinema in 2024. When expectations are starting from perfection, the only way forward is down.

This is a very annoying way to start a review of Furiosa, because the actual film is brilliant. It feels a bit like tutting at the TV when an Olympic diver’s quadruple-somersault pike ends in a perceptible splash; the film’s qualities are so apparent that the one flaw we’ve been trained to look for becomes the headline by default. In a world without Fury Road, Furiosa would have knocked the industry off its feet. As it is, a certain amount of it feels like more of the same.

But more of the same might be just what the doctor ordered. A direct prequel to the previous film, Alyla Browne and Anya Taylor-Joy play Imperator Furiosa at different points in her young life, as she is snatched from the idyllic Green Place of Many Mothers and absorbed into the violently insane world of the Wasteland by Chris Hemsworth’s ambitious warlord, Dementus.

The film’s subtitle describes what follows as a “saga”, and Furiosa proves itself more deserving of the term than most. Stretched over an unspecified number of years (enough to turn Dementus’ beard grey), our mostly silent protagonist grows from a fierce and intuitive youngster to the avenging angel we last met in 2015 as she seeks out revenge on the man who took her from her home.

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That man, as we’ve seen from the trailers, finds Chris Hemsworth having an awful lot of fun. It’s quite the acting challenge to compete for attention with an exploding oil truck, but somehow the Avengers-alum manages it. Decked in a false nose and a cape made from a parachute canvas, Dementus is the most unusual, technically difficult role the actor’s had in years. Equal parts avuncular uncle and violent psychopath, it’s hard to remember a more flat-out entertaining villain in recent memory (the closest I can think of, actually, is Ryan Gosling’s Ken).

But Dementus’ name ain’t the one on the poster. Both Browne and Taylor-Joy are brilliant as Furiosa, but it’s the latter who, even more than Hemsworth, really gets to show off what she can do. Her effortless intensity proves a perfect fit for a character defined by her trauma, her distinctive eyes coming in very handy when the script only gives her about 30 lines of dialogue. The process of getting there might have been on the intense side, but the result is a brilliantly physical performance that quietly elevates Furiosa into something a little bit special.

furiosa chris hemsworth
Credit: Warner Bros.

All the film’s star-performances, though, seem destined to play second-fiddle to Miller’s craft. By now, we know broadly what we’re getting from a Mad Max film: petrol-obsessed glam-rockers scream, shoot and scamper their way across all manner of structurally unsound vehicles, shot for-real in the Australian desert on a shoot which would surely leave any insurance company drowning in sweat. The series’ true strength has always been Miller’s ability to hew a narrative out of this apparent chaos, and like Fury Road before it, Furiosa drips confidence at every turn of the wheel. One War-Rig-bound sequence at the film’s midpoint feels so tactile, so raw that it’s difficult to imagine how anyone got through the shoot intact.

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The amount of visual variety Miller manages to pull out of the landscape is astounding. Though much of the film takes place in various dusty highways, each sequence is defined by its own style. The sky switches from a fiery orange to a smog-choked yellow, painting sand dunes in the contents of a particularly well-stocked box of light gels. Where Fury Road showed off its exceptional cinematography with a stylish black-and-white print, here such an edit would feel like a waste. Furiosa doesn’t have much in common with Miller’s last outing – 2022’s Three Thousand Years Of Longing – but both show off a kind of visual inventiveness that’s more-or-less unmatched in the blockbuster arena.

All of which is to say, if you come into Furiosa looking for big cars making loud noises and blowing up, you’ll get it. But while the story lacks a bit of the relentlessness of its predecessor, the ending proves surprisingly thoughtful in its execution. This is smart, grown-up blockbuster filmmaking at (almost) its finest. It just also happens to blow up a lot of cars.   

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is in cinemas 24th May.

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