Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Film Review: Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Fury Road is nearly impossible to follow, but Furiosa is a solid, entertaining, and well-made addition to the Mad Max universe.

In 2015, I saw Mad Max: Fury Road three separate times in the theatre. My mind was delightfully blown with the incredible world-building in it, and I was uttlerly gobsmacked by Charlize Theron's performance as Furiosa. It was probably even the last physical DVD I ever purchased, so intent was I on always having it available to watch. The movie would go on to be nominated for best picture at the 2016 Academy Awards, which is a wild honor for a summer blockbuster action film. 

Needless to say, my hopes were very high for Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga — the prequel we've all been waiting for. And before I launch into a million thoughts, this was a very good movie. It's perhaps the second-best Mad Max movie after Fury Road. It's also very easy to see how it was presaged in The Road Warrior, too, from its shared crucifixion imagery to its charismatic muscular leader and early war rig.

But it's nearly impossible to watch Furiosa without constantly comparing it to the absolute perfection that is Fury Road. And I think that's okay! With this new entry, George Miller gives us two and half more hours to spend with some of the most interesting characters in the wasteland while introducing us to several new ones. But at the end of the film, I didn't felt like I knew much more about anyone's motivations or relationships. Maybe this is because Fury Road did its world-building just right — you hear about the Green Place and understand it's mythology, but never see it. Characters talk about half-lives, and being awaited in Valhalla, and that's all you need to know. 

In Furiosa, we take trips to the actual Green Place, and the Bullet Farm, and Gas Town, but there is no more real world-building that that, just a quick physical tour of the surroundings. This will be a running theme throughout the movie, and it left me with either a simple appreciation (Oh cool! That's what Gas Town looks like!) or just more questions. 

The Green Place, what few seconds we get to spend in it, resembles Themyscira from Wonder Woman, as it is also a place where women are warriors and men seem to be scarce. I would have LOVED to spend a few more minutes in this oasis, and narratively I think it would have served the story more to show exactly how much was lost when it disappeared. 

What Works in Furiosa

As I like to say about the Star Wars universe, I appreciate any glimpse into a world that I love, and Furiosa is no exception. Settling back into the wasteland was enjoyable and fun, and it harkens back more to some of the older Mad Max movies with its strange characters and ridiculous interactions (a character named Scrotus is one of Immortan Joe's sons and blusters with the best of them). The wasteland is alive and well in Furiosa, from the lost war boy wondering if he's made it Valhalla finally to the motorbikes bedecked with doll forms and helmets adorned with human skulls.

Also, the entire movie I experienced what I call Chekhov's arm: We know Furiosa loses her appendage, but we don't know exactly when or how. Never in a million years would I have guessed that it would have contained a tattoo to her lost Green Place on it, and that to survive in the wasteland she'd have to cut it off herself a la 127 Hours. That's some good writing, there.

Mary Jabassa

The opening sequences where Mary Jabassa, Furiosa's mom, chases her kidnappers across the dunes is an blood-pumping way to kickstart our story in the first minutes, with high-octane motorcycles, sniping, and brute force physical violence. Watching her interact with the wasteland gets you thinking, "Hell yeah, of course this is Furiosa's bad-ass mother!" The Vuvalini, the group of elderly female warriors, was one of my favorite parts of Fury Road, and I would have killed to have learned even more about their training and ethos. From the short bursts we see, they're incredible warriors with a keen sense for justice. 

Dr. Dementus

Hannah Arendt wrote about the banality of evil; George Miller in Furiosa showcases the absurdity or even hilarity of evil. Humongous had his Jason mask; Dementus has his prosthetic nose and ridiculous wig. Chris Hemsworth portrays the primary antagonist in the film, and he's responsible for the gruesome death of Furiosa's mother, which he forces her to watch. She spends her life waiting for revenge on him, and ultimately gets it, but before the climax we spend a lot of time with him — most of it enjoyable. 

Dementus is a wild ride that alternates between moments of sheer comic perfection (his Roman chariot of motorcycles) and ambivalent cruelty. You know he does bad things — you often witness them — but he doesn't reek of unbridled evil. He wants power, but is strangely pragmatic about it. He's also bad at leading, which is actually what would happen in a dystopia with strong cults of personality.

The war rig chase scene

Miller returns to his Fury Road bread and butter with an incredible war rig chase scene in the middle of the movie, and he somehow manages to come up with new ideas and exceed what he did last time. We get a thrilling raider scene where the good guys fend off attackers with motorized parachutes, and I could collectively hear jaws drop in my screening as the chutes danced and criss-crossed over the truck with breathtaking precision. The metal spinning mommy knockers on the back, once they are activated, deliver a very satisfying new way to destroy motorcycles, too. I can't wait to watch this scene multiple times. 

What I Struggled With


My chief complaint, honestly, is with the casting of Anya Taylor-Joy. And to be fair to her, my love for the character of Furiosa apparently has built up a mythology that may well be impossible to live up to, and I apologize for the following criticisms that may well be nit-picking.

For her to work in this role, you have to completely buy her as Furiosa — and I just didn't. Charlize Theron's performance was brutal, emotional, and physical in a way that ATJ didn't pull off. To me, she was too doe-like, too delicate — all cheekbones and skinny arms (compare this to the hairless, muscular and 8% body fat of Hemsworth. I found myself wondering where he found creatine and whey protein powder in the apocalypse, much like I did with Humongous in The Road Warrior).

But after seeing Katy O'Brien in Love Lies Bleeding this year, I was hoping that a younger Furiosa would be more clearly a dominant fighter with a strong and aggressive physical presence. Also, when she finally shaves her head in the final minutes of the movie a la G.I. Jane, you can tell ATJ's wearing a wig, though she has stated that this was because of the disjointed filming schedule. Granted, not everyone can shave their head for a role (though Theron did!) you can absolutely notice the difference. None of this is to say that ATJ's performance is bad, it was just missing something for me.  It's not her fault that Miller didn't write a ton of dialogue for her — huge swathes of time pass with her speaking only a sentence or two — but it just felt like she was a stand-in.

Not enough delving into the relationship between Furiosa and Immortan Joe

There's no denying that Immortan Joe is not a good dude. He keeps women enslaved and harshly deprives citizens of vital natural resources. But in Furiosa, he comes across as a voice of reason in the wasteland, especially when compared to lunatic Dementus. However, we don't know learn hardly anything new about Joe the whole movie. I found this interesting, because at the very end of Fury Road, as Furiosa kills him, the last thing she shouts is "Remember me?" I assume she's referring to her time spent as an enslaved child captive in his harem, but it's a little unclear. She spends time as a praetor first then as an imperator for Joe, and he never seemed to realize who she really was. I suppose I expected some more tension or more insight into their relationship. Also, Hugh Keays-Byrne unfortunately passed away in 2020, so there's a new Joe in this one, and though he looks nearly identical, his stentorian voice is definitely missing.


This is a very good Mad Max movie, and it builds upon all of its predecessors in interesting and impressive ways. But following Fury Road is a nearly impossible feat to best in any sense. George Miller is one hell of a storyteller, though, and I will gladly enjoy any new addition to this decaying world. It's perfect! Perfect in every way.

Unanswered questions

  • How much time elapses between when Furiosa returns after killing Dementus and when she smuggles the brides out? The movie makes it look like just a few days.
  • What does the rank of Imperator mean in the world of the Citadel?
  • Does our beloved Scrotus die? The same actor plays Slit in Fury Road.
  • When does the People Eater get a promotion to ruler of Gas Town?
  • Why does the war rig in this film have the steering wheel on the right while the Fury Road war rig has it on the left? Does society in post-apocalyptic Australia get more American?
  • Why didn't we get a young Miss Giddy? 
  • Did Taylor Swift swipe her idea for her new Eras tour dress from the History Man?
  • How DOES the Green Place disappear in 20 years?
  • Did Furiosa have her tattoo memorized after she loses her arm?
  • Do the deformed and depressed citizens of the citadel really subsistence farm on maggots from dead bodies? Poor things.
  • There's very clearly a Fury Road that runs between the equilateral triangle that is the Citadel, Gas Town, and the Bullet Form. Who maintains it and keeps it paved?
  • What do they do with all that cabbage?


The Math

Baseline Score: 8/10

Bonuses: Stellar production and stunts; a Max Max cameo that's unexpected; a lovely History man looking like a male Bene Gesserit; We get to watch the war rig get concepted and built.

Penalties: Some clunky dialogue like "Do you have it in you to make it epic?"; pacing is a bit off; I don't feel like it expanded the world a ton more than already existed; Anya Taylor-Joy is no Furiosa.

POSTED BY: Haley Zapal is a lawyer-turned-copywriter living in Atlanta, Georgia. A co-host of Hugo Award-winning podcast Hugo, Girl!, she posts on Instagram as @cestlahaley. She loves nautical fiction, growing corn and giving them pun names like Timothee Chalamaize, and thinking about fried chicken.