Cannes 2024 Review

Furiosa Takes the Mad Max Saga to Deranged New Heights

George Miller delivers a wild sci-fi odyssey like no other.

Inverse Reviews

Despite its reputation as a wild, unhinged, visually overwhelming punk-rock opera, George Miller’s action masterpiece Mad Max: Fury Road is surprisingly simple. Stripped down to its spare parts, it’s effectively one long chase scene — a “western on wheels," as Miller described it at the time. Its sparse narrative allowed for a rich world to speak for itself, which is part of why it works so well even in black-and-white or silent versions: it’s visual storytelling at its finest.

That’s what makes it all the more mind-boggling, and stupendous that George Miller has managed to top himself once again with Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.

Starring Anya Taylor-Joy as the fierce heroine originally played by Charlize Theron, Furiosa is the even bigger, more ambitious fever-dream prequel to Fury Road. Miller has always been a maximalist auteur, but he takes his visually bombastic sensibilities to new heights with Furiosa — a spectacular, utterly deranged epic that is unlike any Mad Max movie ever made. Furiosa trades in the franchise’s western vistas and lone-wolf narrative for a heavy-metal riff on Homer’s Odyssey, delivering a sprawling, immersive saga that manages to outdo its predecessor for the most bonkers action that’s ever been injected into your eyeballs.

Anya Taylor-Joy plays a younger Furiosa, before Charlize Theron’s version in Mad Max: Fury Road.

Warner Bros.

Furiosa follows Taylor-Joy’s stalwart heroine as she goes to punishing lengths to find her way home after she’s ripped away from the secret oasis violently guarded by a community of women warriors. Kidnapped by a group of scavenger bikers, Furiosa (played as a child by Alyla Browne, all steely dignity and giant eyes) is taken to the wannabe warlord Dementus (a scene-stealing Chris Hemsworth), the leader of the particularly savage Bike Horde. When she refuses to divulge the secrets of the “place of abundance” that she comes from, Dementus uses her as a bargaining chip to gain power over Gas Town, in a trade with Citadel leader Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme, valiantly taking over for the late Hugh Keays-Byrne), who takes Furiosa in as one of his wives. But she manages to rise in his ranks to become Imperator Furiosa, thanks to her own survival instincts and the help of the sympathetic Praetorian Jack (a cool and laconic Tom Burke). However, her many attempts to go home are foiled time and again — many of which involve Dementus, whose ascent into a corrupt leader of Gas Town threatens the delicate balance (or at least, whatever balance exists) of the Wasteland.

Divided into several chapters that chart Furiosa’s life, Furiosa is a true-blue epic. Like Homer’s Odyssey, Furiosa takes us through a series of setbacks and adventures that break down its hero’s body and spirit, but told with unbridled energy of a War Boy hopped up on spray paint and gas fumes. All the sick grotesqueries of the Mad Max franchise are here, as are the astonishing feats of acrobatics from Fury Road, but dialed up to 11.

No one wants in on this bear hug.

Warner Bros.

It’s strange to call Fury Road grounded compared to Furiosa, but Furiosa operates on a level of hyperrealism that few other contemporary blockbusters would dare to. The colors are so deeply saturated they’re almost blinding. The viscerally upsetting violence, comparable to the blood and gore of the original Mad Max films, is heightened to almost cartoonish degrees. And Miller throws in so many crash zooms and visual flairs that you start to feel dizzy. In one scene, he cuts to an extreme close-up of Furiosa’s eye, which reflects with perfect clarity a gruesome death scene — such a brief little flex on Miller’s part that shows even as he’s pushing 80, he’s trying things no one has ever done before.

The setpieces are just as awe-inspiring, but in a different flavor than Fury Road’s. Miller’s 2015 predecessor gave us new achievements in practical effects and stunts, but Furiosa delivers on sheer ballsiness. The setpieces give the sense that Miller feels like he no longer needs to prove what he can do, he’s now just doing whatever his imagination allows. Who needs to heed physics when you’ve got bikers hang-gliding onto a war rig outfitted with a giant chain and spikes? It lends Furiosa a weightlessness, yes — but that’s the point. It makes the film feel both sleazy and slick at the same time, like Lawrence of Arabia was shot by someone on bath salts. It’s the brand of eerie unreality that Miller perfected in the underseen Three Thousand Years of Longing, but made shiny and chrome.

Hemsworth gives a career-best performance as the charismatic, but clownish, Dementus.

Warner Bros.

And what of Furiosa herself? A movie as dense and immense as Furiosa (with a runtime pushing two-and-a-half hours) certainly seems like it could threaten to overpower its central character, but that’s never the case. Anya Taylor-Joy delivers a powerhouse turn as the younger Furiosa, whose rage and thirst for vengeance has not yet been tempered by experience. Taylor-Joy’s incredibly expressive eyes — much of which her performance hinges on, due to a stretch in which Furiosa poses as a mute boy — seem to always barely hold back her emotions, whether they be grief, or fear, or pure, seething anger. Like Theron, Taylor-Joy lends a lethally lithe physicality to the role, one that is more tightly coiled, like a serpent about to strike. But Taylor-Joy’s Furiosa is also allowed more vulnerability, thanks to a moving romance between her and Burke’s Praetorian Jack, who feels a bit like a Max Rockatansky. Although Taylor-Joy’s Furiosa has soft edges, and is at times, unhinged, her performance feels unquestionably like a continuation of Theron’s heroine who unleashed that unforgettable primal scream in 2015

Of course, Furiosa wouldn’t have its impact without an antagonist to match. And Hemsworth’s Dementus is up to the task, with the Thor star relishing in playing one of the most psychotic baddies to ever grace the Mad Max franchise. A gleefully unhinged villain who is as absurd as he is ruthless, Hemsworth is endlessly entertaining to watch. Both lovably brutish and obscenely cruel in turn, he might be our next great “character actor stuck in a leading man’s body.” And the gang he surrounds himself with — along with the wild array of characters that Miller has created this time around, including a piss-drinking boy named Piss Boy — makes Dementus formidable enough to warrant Furiosa’s fury.

Anya Taylor-Joy is impeccable as Furiosa.

Warner Bros.

Furiosa is a jaw-dropping achievement. It’s a hyper-realistic vision of the apocalypse, a Greek myth made into an outsized blockbuster spectacle. Is it better than Fury Road? That’s a “to each is own” kind of question (it’s at the very least equal), but it’s hard to deny the glossy, maximalist pleasures of Furiosa.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga made its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on May 15. It will be released in theaters on May 24.

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