‘Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’ Review: Anya Taylor-Joy Takes Over in a Brutal Return to Fury Road

Cannes 2024: The fifth “Mad Max” installment contains as many vehicular stunts as a “Fast  & Furious” flick but still felt at home in the Grand Theatre Lumiere at Cannes

Furiosa A Mad Max Saga
"Furiosa" (Credit: Warner Bros.)

Nine years ago, George Miller’s series of “Mad Max” films changed from a brutally entertaining dystopian fantasy, which it had been for three movies between 1979 and 1985, to a shockingly good (and yes, brutally entertaining) work of cinematic art capable of winning lots of awards. And since that transition began with the 2015 premiere of “Mad Max: Fury Road” at the Cannes Film Festival, it makes sense that the next installment in his epic series — which now gets the official designation of saga in its title, “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” – would premiere on Wednesday evening in Cannes.

Of course, it’s not really a Mad Max saga – it’s the saga of somebody who will one day get to know Mad Max. In “Fury Road,” Charlize Theron’s character of Furiosa, a rebel, warrior and protean feminist in the testosterone-dripping wasteland of a ravaged post-apocalyptic Australia, managed to upstage Tom Hardy’s Max Rockatansky (a successor to Mel Gibson’s Max back in the ’80s). In the new movie, Furiosa takes over completely for what amounts to a prequel and origin story for the character.

(Max does get a cameo in “Furiosa,” but it’s little more than a bit of fan service.)

With Anya Taylor-Joy taking over for Theron and the dusty and high octane action sequences pumped up  to a gloriously excessive degree, “Furiosa” is a satisfying addition to a franchise that has gone from the indie aesthetic of the original “Mad Max” to the over-the-top extravagance of “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” (Tina Turner as Aunty Entity!) to the nifty trick pulled off by Miller in the last two movies, which contain as many vehicular stunts as a “Fast  & Furious” flick but still feel at home in the Grand Theatre Lumiere at Cannes.

Is “Furiosa” as thoroughly fulfilling as its predecessor? Not exactly, though that’s partly because the last film came as a delicious shock after the 30-year gap since “Thunderdome,” during which time Miller occupied himself with everything from “The Witches of Eastwick” to “Babe: Pig in the City” to “Happy Feet.”

“Fury Road” was an imaginative, virtuoso action joint that fired on all cylinders from start to finish; “Furiosa” backs up, fills in the blanks and does a solid job of giving its title character a history that answers questions that its predecessor left in the dust. But it doesn’t deliver the thrills quite as thoroughly or carry the same sense of discovery, and it doesn’t seem likely to lead all films in Academy Award wins next March, the way “Fury Road” did with its six Oscars back in 2016.

Miller has said that the story of the new film was written before the filming of “Fury Road,” because the character needed a strong backstory even if that story wasn’t seen and was barely discussed in that film. That story is laid out from the start, opening in the verdant commune where the young Furiosa (Alyla Browne)  is being raised by her fierce mother (Charlee Fraser), before desert raiders led by Chris Hemsworth’s Dementus kidnap the young girl and end up killing her mother when she attempts to rescue Furiosa.

Starting with that “Green Place” that Furiosa has been longing for ever since, the new movie ticks off and explains one aspect of the character after another: The harem of wives she frees and drives off with in the last movie, the prosthetic forearm she sports, the dramatic makeup fashioned from motor oil. Taylor-Joy is a couple of inches shorter than Theron, and more accustomed to being a quieter force in projects like “The Queen’s Gambit” and “Last Night in Soho.” But that’s kind of the point of the character, who morphs from a little girl who’s lost her mom to a fearsome warrior who can bring down a grubby, cartoonishly vicious patriarchy.  

In “Furiosa,” Taylor-Joy lives up to her character’s gleefully descriptive name and is entirely believable as somebody who might grow up to be Theron. (And Browne, who plays her as a young girl, is so entirely believable as somebody who might grow up to be Taylor-Joy that you start to think about that creepy de-aging technology in movies like “The Irishman.”)

Furiosa’s main foe in this film – though to be fair,  just about everybody you meet in this dusty apocalypse of a world is a foe of one sort of another; it’s just a bad neighborhood – is Chris Hemsworth’s Dementus, his name as tongue-in-cheek as any other denizen of Miller’s wasteland. But Hemsworth appears to take the comic tinge of the name (and his hooked prosthetic nose) as an inspiration: He’s pretty much a whiny brat trying to be an evil warlord, acting cruel and vicious mostly because his minions expect it of him.

There are times when Hemsworth’s approach works – the final showdown between Dementus and Furiosa has a refreshingly human slant – but the comic touches also seem like a miscalculation at times. This is above all a revenge saga, with Furiosa an implacable force out to make him pay, and it feels odd to be laughing at the guy our heroine is out to destroy.

But “Furiosa” is wildly and yes, furiously over-the-top because that’s what “Mad Max” movies are, and its excesses are glorious enough to sweep away any tonal quibbles. People get run over by monster trucks and blown up by exploding spears thrown from hang gliders; Furiosa spends most of one epic-length action scene underneath a truck; and no battle scene is good enough unless it’s taking place at a minimum of 60 miles an hour. And yet it makes sense that they’re showing the damn thing at the Cannes Film Festival.

So tip your greasy, dusty, battered hat to Miller, who is pulling off some kind of ridiculous feat by turning these grungy action movies into a grand saga.  

“Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” opens exclusively in theaters on May 24.


2 responses to “‘Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’ Review: Anya Taylor-Joy Takes Over in a Brutal Return to Fury Road”

  1. Sydney Chandler Avatar
    Sydney Chandler

    Nope, not interested in this film at all. Theron was supposed to get a stand-alone film when old man Miller decided he wanted some young hot thang, and blindsided Theron. This is what makes me sick with men in Hollywood. Women are always too old, but men never are.

    1. cadavra Avatar

      Did it ever occur to you that Theron was simply all booked up, or at 48 was too old to play a younger version of the character, or–gasp–simply decided she didn’t want to do another one? You have no idea what the casting process was like, so don’t go throwing around insulting theories without proof.

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