4 out of 5 stars

You must conceal your deepest emotions to survive in George Miller’s apocalypse. You need to make yourself useful to those in power. And above all, you’ll have to learn how to change gears and handle a rifle.

When foraging for fruit, the young Furiosa (Alyla Browne) is taken by bandits, who marvel at the existence of land still supporting vegetation. She is raised by Dementus (Chris Hemsworth), a cult-like leader of the Biker Horde, who tortures Furiosa’s mother, Mary (Charlee Fraser), in an attempt to discover the location of The Green Place. Neither Mary nor Furiosa reveal the hidden paradise. And as the years pass, Dementus has designs on becoming a powerful figure in the precarious wasteland that surrounds them all.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is a fantastic addition to Miller’s ever-more-ambitious franchise. With audacious action sequences and awe-inspiring visuals, the Australian filmmaker once again demonstrates why his apocalyptic spectacles are cinematic marvels. Perhaps most impressively, Miller’s film excels at characterising its hot-headed protagonists in a surprisingly nuanced way, all while further developing the atmospheric world that has made the series such an intriguing watch from the franchise’s inception.

Because of our familiarity with the world Miller has created over five instalments, the first shot of the film holds immense symbolic significance: a child’s hand reaching for a piece of fresh fruit. Here, we can see the humanising effects of the natural world, a theme that has largely defined the previous four entries. Without the abundance of flora, mankind becomes cruel, diseased, and subhuman.

For this reason, the setting becomes the film’s main character. Any fan of cinematic world-building should see this film, ideally in the cinema, to soak up the grand vistas of violence on offer. But even for someone not previously captivated by the textured layers of culture and folklore that infuse the franchise, there’s plenty to appreciate here. That’s because, despite previous glimpses of the nightmarish world that defines the film series, this latest instalment arguably does the best job yet of artistically mapping the hellish landscape that engulfs our characters.

The Wasteland bears down upon everyone. Fractious alliances are formed, and unreliable treaties are established to secure trade. As factions trade or fight, we are given insight into how survival in such an apocalyptic wasteland is thought to work: look out for yourself and no one else. However, it is suggested that this very mentality is the problem that plagues the barren landscape. Although they consider duplicity a prerequisite for success, sustained cooperation would arguably yield greater results for our characters.

Several people discuss the harrowing effects of life after the global catastrophe. In Furiosa, we see someone who is born from the harshness of the new world order, a woman who has forged a life out of the sun-baked rubble that surrounds her. However, while Dementus serves as the main antagonist, it’s arguably in him that we see this theme writ large. On two separate occasions, he talks about the family that was taken from him; we can only assume it was the grief of this loss that turned him into a psychotic madman.

This barren world demands that people become hard. “You have about you a purposeful savagery,” remarks Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke) of Furiosa. It’s for this reason that he agrees to take her on as a trainee, even after she tries to kill him. Indeed, it is for this very reason that he decides to have her as co-captain as he runs the gauntlet known as Fury Road: a little savagery isn’t enough. It must be honed and directed.

Though we witness Furiosa’s shrewd killer instinct on display, this film is far more focused on developing the characters on screen than the previous instalment in the franchise. As a result, if you come to this film anticipating the non-stop thrill ride that Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) offered, you might be disappointed; this instalment is noticeably less fast-paced. This feels like a breath of fresh air for modern action films; there’s a patient approach to the story and characters, with action set pieces taking a back seat (pun unintended).

This feels strange considering this film was directed by the same man who has argued that films should be fast, with dialogue and exposition being one of the biggest culprits for slowing them down. While there has never really been a lot of expository conversation in his work—Miller is a director who expects the audience to keep up—it’s shocking to note that the main character in this film speaks only about 30 lines of dialogue. The fact that he and co-writer Nico Lathouris managed to create Furiosa’s character with so few lines is a testament to their abilities as storytellers.

Despite its reduced presence in this film, Miller’s greatest achievement remains the mind-blowing action sequences and practical stunts. The attack on the War Rig is sure to be a topic of conversation for years to come. It’s a masterfully crafted piece of orchestrated violence, benefiting from a meticulously storyboarded process that reportedly took 78 days of shooting to perfect. During this time, 200 stunt performers would have been working on the sequence every day. All I’ll say is that the dedication to cinematic thrills is evident, making this one of the most impressive action sequences of the 21st-century.

The film is further enhanced by Anya Taylor-Joy’s central performance. She conveys a great deal through her expressions (and needed to, given the lack of dialogue). She ably usurps Charlize Theron, who was disappointed to be unable to reprise the role. Theron undeniably brought a rawness to the character that Taylor-Joy lacks, although this could be because the South African actress was 10 years older than Taylor-Joy when she played the part. The world-weariness was evident in Theron’s eyes (which could also have been due to the gruelling shoot).

I’m a little ambivalent about some of the other performances. Chris Hemsworth’s portrayal of the crazed Dementus was, I thought, occasionally unconvincing. This might be because he isn’t quite right for the role. Aside from the fact that I can’t imagine how he’s maintaining that physique in a world with inadequate nutrition, he lacks the menace that so often defines characters in this universe. Mel Gibson, on the other hand, had that dangerous aura about him, though whether it was entirely down to acting is another question.

With this in mind, it seems a bold decision to have cast Hemsworth as the psychotic villain in this franchise instalment; I haven’t truly been convinced by his portrayal of villains so far in his career. His performance in Bad Times at the El Royale (2018) was more distracting than unsettling. I would have preferred a more suitable actor, even if their name wasn’t as recognisable, to have taken the role.

If the characters were less identifiable, it would further enhance the audience’s immersion in the story. I recognise the need for franchises to maintain success by bringing in well-known actors. However, part of the original Mad Max (1979) film’s cult status stemmed from the lack of recognisable faces. Instead, we were drawn into the chaotic world, the lawless landscape that trapped the protagonists.

Additionally, Miller and his production team’s dedication to their craft is truly admirable, and they deserve to be financially rewarded. Out of the unending franchises that currently exist, which are always being expanded upon with sequels and prequels, spin-offs and remakes, this is perhaps the only one I am excited about seeing in the cinema.

All in all, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga continues with the same legendarily epic scope that Miller started with 45 years ago. It is filled with believable characters, immense action, mesmerising stunts, and excellent world-building that engrosses the viewer from the word go. I hope to see another entry in the cinema sometime soon—but I may have to wait another nine years until such a spectacle graces our screens again. Still, I’d rather have a long intermission between instalments than compromise any of Miller’s vision. For quality like this, I’ll happily wait.

AUSTRALIA •  USA | 2024 | 150 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Cast & Crew

director: George Miller.
writers: George Miller & Nico Lathouris.
starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Burke, George Shevtsov, Angus Sampson, Alyla Browne, Nathan Jones & Josh Helman.