‘Furiosa’ satisfies more than box office would suggest

By Kirk Boxleitner
Posted 6/5/24



“Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” is not only the direct sequel to 2015’s “Mad Max: Fury Road,” but also the fifth installment in writer-director George …

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‘Furiosa’ satisfies more than box office would suggest




“Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” is not only the direct sequel to 2015’s “Mad Max: Fury Road,” but also the fifth installment in writer-director George Miller’s “Mad Max” series, which started with the first “Mad Max” film in 1979, so reports of its apparently underwhelming box office over the Memorial Day weekend leave me wondering if audiences have finally grown weary of this 45-year-old franchise.

If so, it would be a shame, because “Furiosa” sees Miller firing on all cylinders, not only in staging engagingly elaborate and intense action sequences, but also as a cinematic storyteller, since “Furiosa” demonstrates a narrative depth that was arguably lacking in the otherwise superb “Fury Road,” as well as in the equally high-octane “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior.”

“Furiosa” is the first film since the original “Mad Max” to show us our protagonists before they were broken by the increasingly dysfunctional world they inhabit, and it gives Furiosa herself a backstory as impressive as 1982’s “Conan the Barbarian,” which also showed us how a child who’d had everything taken from them would draw strength from their own subjugation, to claw back their independence and eventual revenge.

Considering how rarely Furiosa speaks, or even reveals her full face, to hide her identity while honing the skills furnished by her oppressors, Miller made the right choice in casting an actress who can emote solely with her eyes, because Anya Taylor-Joy is as defined by her giant eyes as the aliens in Whitley Strieber’s “Communion.”

But however capably Taylor-Joy embodies the role of a young Furiosa, who’s in the process of becoming the resolute warrior played so well by Charlize Theron in “Fury Road,” I suspect Chris Hemsworth will not receive nearly enough credit for his depiction of Dr. Dementus, the warlord leader of the scavenging biker horde whose members abduct Furiosa as a girl, from the Green Place of Many Mothers.

One of the many challenges of crafting a prequel that fits into an already established narrative arc lies in constructing a deliberately second-rate adversary, to illustrate the saga’s overall evolution toward ever-more formidable opponents.

Whatever flaws George Lucas’ “Star Wars” prequels possessed, what I think a number of critical fans failed to pick up on was that Darth Maul in “The Phantom Menace” and General Grievous in “Revenge of the Sith” were not just lesser versions of Darth Vader, but intentionally so, to highlight that the “Star Wars” universe’s villains hadn’t developed into the caliber of Vader yet.

Likewise, to establish the inciting events that led little-girl-lost Furiosa to grow into the battle-hardened leader Furiosa, Miller needed to give her the equivalent of the Toecutter in 1979’s “Mad Max” (because if you’re retelling Spider-Man’s origins, you always need a burglar to murder Uncle Ben).

Between Miller’s surprisingly subtle script and Hemsworth’s go-for-broke performance, they turn what could have been a perfunctory placeholder of a role into a fascinating failure of an aspiring head honcho, like a live-action version of the Decepticons’ Starscream from “The Transformers.”

Sadly, Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played both the Toecutter in “Mad Max” and Immortan Joe in “Fury Road,” passed away in 2020, leaving Lachy Hulme to stand in for Keays-Byrne as Immortan Joe in “Furiosa,” but Miller and Hemsworth nonetheless manage to hammer home how mediocre Dementus’ half-formed talents and paltry aspirations are, in comparison to the ruler of the Citadel.

Speaking of this film’s narrative antecedents to the franchise’s already established characters, Tom Burke does a nicely understated job of playing the Praetorian Jack, the commander of the Citadel’s war rig, as an earlier echo of “Mad Max” Rockatansky himself, since a combination of admiring curiosity and battlefield necessity compels him to become Furiosa’s makeshift mentor, exhibiting a stoically nurturing grace that slightly leavens the story’s ever-present tension.

Add to this that Miller has somehow yet again arguably invented an entirely new language of hypothetical apocalyptic warfare, by combining high-speed muscle cars, armored tanker trucks, ultralight aircraft and Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatic poles, and “Furiosa” amounts to 148 minutes which still felt like they ended far too soon.

I hopefully won’t spoil too much by revealing that Dementus’ final fate is among the more creatively and satisfyingly karmic for a big-screen bad guy that I’ve seen in recent memory.