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Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga review – grinds every gear

Can George Miller strike grease lightning again with this fast and furious prequel led by Anya Taylor-Joy?
Furiosa Anya Taylor-Joy

‘This is our destiny. You, me. The question is, do you have it in you to make it epic?’

So bellows Chris Hemsworth (finally deigning to make an Australian film, and, no, Thor: Love and Thunder and an uncredited cameo in Interceptor do not count) as the comically Ocker villain, Dementus, of George Miller’s latest chrome-huffing joint, Furiosa.

He’s locked in mortal combat with The Witch star Anya Taylor-Joy’s younger version of the Imperator, previously depicted by Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road. Determined to wreak vengeance on him for destroying her childhood in the dear Green Place, one of this war-poisoned world’s precious few remaining outposts of abundance, she tears across the Wasteland, hunting him down and eliciting his bellicose cry.

You could throw the same leather gauntlet at Miller. Does this fifth instalment in the Mad Max Saga, set perhaps around ten years before Fury Road but presumably post-Thunderdome, roar as ferociously propulsive as their six-Oscar-winning previous entry?

Is it epic?”

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Furiosa and other warrior women

Held up against the monstrously cinematic Fury Road, Furiosa falls just a touch short. But only by an inch or two.

With a battalion of death-defying stunt performers corralled by a returning Guy Norris, who first risked life and limb on Mad Max 2, the action sequences are astounding, grinding every gear for maximum anxiety. Whatever the true balance between practical effect and computer wizardry, it feels like Taylor-Joy could be mincemeat at any moment.

Stepping up to the plate with Theron is an unenviable task, but Taylor-Joy has the might to make the switch feel real, even if the timeline for one to become the other is a little wonky. Massive props must also go to The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart actor Alyla Browne, whose command of the opening sequences is rigorous as Furiosa resists after being snatched by Dementus’ motorbike-riding marauders, led by the ever-menacing David Field. A case of nominative determinism in action, Furiosa wasn’t so much forged out of tragedy as born ready to mete out mayhem in the highly likely chance of its occurrence.

Read: Mad Max: solving the apocalypse timeline before Furiosa hits cinemas

It’s a toughness inherited from her mother, with Awabakal model-turned-actor Charlee Fraser owning this paradise lost sequence as a steely woman and sharp-shooting sniper whose daughter you’d be unwise to kidnap.

Dragged to the Roman tent-like encampment of the parachute-caped Dementus – Hemsworth’s hamming it up works in a Max-ed out world where he rides a motorbike-driven chariot – Furiosa will not bend the knee, earning her his pretty creepy attention and the prize of a tatty teddy once owned by his long-gone kids.

When her path eventually winds to the Citadel from Fury Road, Furiosa is no more amenable to Immortan Joe. If Romper Stomper remake lead Lachy Hulme can’t quite nail the gravel-hewn gravitas of the late Hugh Keays-Byrne as the wheezing warlord, it’s not really about him. Furiosa’s simply biding her time to get back at Dementus from a position of power, shiny war rig and all.

English actor Tom Burke – Miller could stand to populate the saga with a few more Aussies up front and centre – is a remarkable talent who shone in The Souvenir. But he’s a shadow of Tom Hardy or Mel Gibson in Praetorian Jack’s sweaty leathers as Furiosa’s Max-alike mentor.

Again, this wild ride ain’t about the blokes, and we certainly didn’t need a split-second sorta cameo of you know who. Taylor-Joy excels in a physically commanding role, and Furiosa’s simply biding her time to make a break back to the Green Place, taking the enslaved Mothers of Fury Road with her.

Too much drag?

High octane action. Check. A mighty turn from Taylor-Joy. Check. Widening of the Wasteland with gloriously detailed world-building thanks to Oscar-winner Colin Gibson’s production design. Check.

For all these reasons and more, Furiosa’s a tension-revving action flick extraordinaire that runs crashing bores like the umpteenth Mission Impossible movie and the increasingly silly Fast & Furious franchise right off the road. So why isn’t it racing to pole position alongside Fury Road?

Part of the drag’s in the classic sequel/prequel drive to do more, to go bigger and ballsier. Seeing more of the Wasteland is awesome, but the quality of visuals notably drops in spots, as if it was rushed in post. We’re also told a bit too much about every stop-off, in the vein of an overly rehearsed tour guide. Co-written with Nick Lathouris, it’s a lot talkier than your average Max movie, with Hemsworth by far the most verbose baddie. Same goes for the redundant intertitles. A little bit less would have gone a long way.

That’s true in the editing suite, too. Martin Scorsese’s invaluable editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, once memorably offered that, ‘Marty’s movies aren’t violent until I cut them,’ perfectly encapsulating the too-oft-unsung heroism of those who massage the mess and noise into perfection.

Margaret Sixel, married to Miller, cut through acres of footage to hone Fury Road into the lean, mean fighting machine it is. Eliot Knapman, her second assistant editor on that masterpiece, rides tandem here and together, they ever so slightly take their feet off the metal. Notable droops and sags jar, in a movie that should be hooning towards the horizon.

If it isn’t quite neck-and-burn-rubberneck with Fury Road, then perhaps that’s an impossibly high bar. But taken together in these increasingly anaemic times for action movies, these twin titanic beasts of Australian cinema – as with Taylor-Joy and Theron – are no mere mortals, leaving all competition spluttering in the toxic desert’s dust.

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4 out of 5 stars

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Actors:

Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Burke, David Field, Charlee Fraser, Lachy Hulme, Alyla Browne

Director:

George Miller

Format: Movie

Country: Australia

Release: 23 May 2024