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Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (15)

Director: George Miller
Screenplay: George Miller, Nick Lathouris

Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Burke

Running time: 148 minutes

Cinema release

Review: David Stephens

It seems surreal to think that the original Mad Max has spawned such an eclectic and influential franchise. Lest we forget, the 1979 film was Ozploitation at its finest. A genre-tinged benchmark movie that barely touched upon the apocalypse and was more Dirty Harry than Road Warrior. Since then, director George Miller has veered more towards a style that feels like David Lynch after a pint of diesel and a case of sunstroke… and that’s meant as a compliment. This peaked with 2015’s magnificent Fury Road, which is generally considered to be an absolute classic and easily the peak of the series, despite the rumours of alleged antagonism between stars Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron during the shooting. It was Theron’s “Imperator Furiosa” that caught the attention of both the fans and Miller’s imagination, as he invented an elaborate backstory for her so that the lead actress could get the required steely motivation. And, some nine years later, here it is in cinematic form. Anya Taylor-Joy was an easy-to-get-onboard-with choice for the prequel version of the titular character, as was Chris Hemsworth for the demented warlord… err… “Dementus”. After opening at this year's Cannes Festival with a standing ovation (which admittedly means very little these days), it’s now juggernauting across the big screens in the US and the UK.


Years after a (consistently vague and never verified) global catastrophe, the world has gone to shit. So… no change there then. Despite this, somewhere in the Australian outback is a “place of abundance” with vegetation and fresh water. This “Green Place of Many Mothers” is the idyllic backdrop for Furiosa’s childhood and a peaceful commune to be protected at all costs. The young Furiosa (played by a capable Alya Browne from “Sting”) is abducted by lackeys from the biker gang headed by Dementus (Hemsworth hamming it up admirably). Losing her mother in the process and determined to keep the Place secret from the nutty gang leader, she keeps schtum until she is offloaded onto Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme) as part of a peacekeeping deal. As she grows into adulthood (Taylor-Joy), the injustice she experiences gradually turns her into the deadly Amazon that we encounter in “Fury Road”. And a reckoning with Dementus awaits.


The first question that generally arises after a viewing of Furiosa is… is it as good as Fury Road? And the straight answer (for this writer at least), is “not quite”. But that should be accompanied by a “it’s pretty close though”. In all honesty, that 2015 film was lightning-in-a-bottle to some extent. A breathless exercise in action cinema that surprised so many people with its simplistic plot and non-stop movement. Furiosa still has many of those qualities and is an excellent effort that really MUST be experienced on a large screen with a reliable sound system (cranked up to “11” if possible). By the very nature of its narrative, which takes place over many years instead of a couple of days, there’s a stop/start effect that makes it feel a little overlong in some places. We don’t actually see Taylor-Joy in the role until an hour has passed, for example. That’s not necessarily a drastic criticism. It’s just a different animal and Miller makes novel uses of stillness to mark significant events in the story. It can’t all be fuel explosions after all…


That being said, expect adrenal glands to get a high-impact workout, as frantic vehicle chase sequences are still the norm here. And they rock. From war trucks with medieval weaponry, to hang-gliders (?!) dropping bombs, and cranes whipping bikes from the ground, it’s all here. Add boomsticks (in all senses of the word) and lethal sniper rifles, along with collapsing structures throwing people about, and you get the picture. Happily, it’s all infused with Miller’s hyper-active cinematography and balletic vehicular choreography. You’ll know the sort of thing if you’ve seen any of the previous “Max” films. Dramatic zoom-ins on the drivers before impacts, somersaulting raiders from disabled bikes, hapless defenders being blown off moving trucks by bombs, etc, etc. It’s mostly practical (with the occasional green screen and CG enhancement) and it’s old school. Making your pulse quicken and your grin widen as you take in the frenzy of broken metal and bodies.


Just like all the other “Max” movies, the narrative is pretty simple. Young girl kidnapped and wronged. Gets pretty pissed about some stuff. Becomes a hard-ass. But in a slightly different direction, the film takes more breaks from the frantic action and effort is given to finding some emotional layers and development to the lead, much like the Gibson trilogy. Reviews have made much of the fact that Taylor-Joy has only thirty lines of dialogue in total (some of which were obviously added in post-production). However, the actress sells the emotion of her character and her innermost thoughts with her measured movements, traits, and the occasional death stare. She nails it in other words and it's doubtful that any other character actor would have slipped into  Theron’s thespian space so seamlessly. Hemsworth by comparison, has a LOT to say. Most of which is absolute bollocks and as mad as a hatful of rabbits. “It’s piquant… and zesty”, he says after literally drinking someone’s tears. So it marks his charisma and acting duties as to the extent the character remains so watchable, despite being such an irredeemable bastard. There’s even a bit of unexpected depth given to his motives in later stages that is incredibly subtle and unforced. Some respect should also be given to Tom Burke who plays “Praetorian Jack”, becoming an important part of Furiosa’s history and ultimately a surrogate for Max in the plot to some extent.


Whilst some might find the occasional action breaks as a diversion from the best qualities of the film, as mentioned earlier Miller makes some fine use out of stillness and silence. There’s a marvellous moment where, after being thrown out of a truck, Furiosa stands completely alone in the wilderness and the camera whirls around her with no music, signifying her solitude and desperation. Miller even emulates the famous “Lawrence of Arabia” extreme long-shot, with a truck on the horizon instead of Omar Sharif on a camel (although it doesn’t last nearly as long). Surprisingly this even extends to a final confrontation, which doesn’t consist of duelling cars or fist-fights. It comes down to words and ideologies, being refreshingly mature in that context. It even culminates in a multiple-choice outcome. If that sounds unbearably pretentious, it really isn’t. And the whole thing speaks to Miller’s competence as a director in that it succeeds as well as it does.


So, it’s an unreserved recommendation for Furiosa. Those expecting a high-octane blast-fest will get hugely accomplished chunks of that, and to a degree that is still unmatched in most studio efforts. In all honesty, the Fast and Furious offerings can only ever dream of getting anywhere near this level of vehicular-based intensity (and acting, obviously). It’s a pure (Taylor) Joy to watch and likely to be one of the films of the year, even if it doesn’t match Fury Road in some respects. Car-nage for grown-ups and visual poetry for the soul. What are you waiting for?

A feast of elegant chaos. It doesn’t quite match the lofty heights of “Fury Road”, but it gets damned close. The visuals are remarkable, Taylor-Joy and Hemsworth are terrific, and the stunts are as spectacular as expected. It leaves you hoping that we visit the Mad-Maxi-Verse many more times.
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