Furiosa REVIEW – More Exhausting than Exhilarating

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga
Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

It’s telling that the end credits of Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga are intercut with moments from Mad Max: Fury Road. That choice is an apparent acknowledgement that this newest entry in the Mad Max franchise, once again from writer/director George Miller, exists entirely in the shadow of the film that came before it.

Furiosa’s position as a prequel centered on a character other than Max doesn’t necessitate this kind of deference to the previous entry. Every other movie in the franchise functions as a standalone adventure, and besides the first, viewing order is largely irrelevant. Which makes it all the more frustrating that Furiosa (the movie) is so tightly bound to Fury Road. The announcement of a project centered on Furiosa (the character, played by Charlize Theron in Fury Road and Anya Taylor-Joy in Furiosa) years ago was welcome news to fans for the promise of more jaw-dropping vehicular action sequences and more time spent with a fascinating character.

It’s doubtful that anyone was looking forward to learning about how the Organic Mechanic (Angus Sampson) came into Immortan Joe’s (Hugh Keays-Byrne in Fury Road, Lachy Hulme in Furiosa) employ, or how the women in the Joe’s citadel went from “wives” to “milk mothers.” Beyond the severe prequelitis, Furiosa also repeatedly visually quotes Fury Road. Albeit one of these images carries some thematic and emotional heft, but another functions purely as a cheap serotonin hit for viewers who delight in recognizing things from other movies.

Sadly it’s not just Miller’s genuflecting to his past self that drags Furiosa down.

The movie’s ultra crisp look courtesy of cinematographer Simon Duggan looks great in the film’s more moodily lit moments or anytime the screen is filled with colored powder. But in brightly lit scenes it only makes the shocking amount of CGI standout. The worst of these CGI errors is the significant screen time dedicated to villain Dementus’s (Chris Hemsworth) dogs who, in the most humane choice, are entirely CG and, for lack of a better phrase, look like dog shit.

The “saga” part of the title and the film’s nearly two hour and a half hour runtime make themselves felt throughout as five title cards break up the narrative that goes deep on worldbuilding. In another contrast with Fury Road, which alludes to a fully realized world while focusing on the central story, Furiosa regularly offers on screen text, and, towards the end, a confusingly unintroduced voiceover to explain the locations and events. It’s so densely plotted it often raises questions of whether the movie is struggling to cram in everything from source material, but while a Furiosa comic exists, the screenplay for the film is entirely original.

Within this frankly exhausting story, Miller and company do deliver some of the astounding action set pieces that made Fury Road a phenomenon as well as some set, production, and costumes designs that stand alongside the best of the series.

The Octoboss (Goran Kleut) is a highlight of both the action and the film’s design. His horned and veiled headgear along with the massive octopus kite that carries him and his motorbike through the air mark him as a future fan favorite alongside Humungus. His often airborne henchmen, who combine parachutes with massive fans and motorcycles for a tactical advantage, are key to a set piece that rivals Fury Road. The high speed battle moves deftly between parachuting assailants in the sky, combatants in and on vehicles, and the underside of a “war rig” tanker where Furiosa struggles to make repairs while under attack.

Scattered throughout the film are other eye-popping and edge of your seat moments. An assault on a stronghold offers viewers visions of destruction on a scale unseen before in the franchise. A sequence with characters climbing on a truck hanging high above the ground as they attempt to fix a broken chain is also beautifully executed and nerve wracking.

These masterful and rousing set pieces just beg the question why Furiosa is so different from the movie it’s constantly reminding us of. Generally a new film in an ongoing franchise offering something distinct is welcome. But in the case of Furiosa the overwhelming plot combined with the persistent references to and over explanations of Fury Road drown out the exhilarating action that’s made Mad Max such a successful franchise.

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Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga
Furiosa delivers some stunning action set pieces, but they’re bogged down in an overly complicated and poorly paced story that over-explains much of what fans saw in Fury Road.