Film review: Furiosa – A Mad Max Saga

The Mad Max circus is back in this prequel to Fury Road and George Miller proves himself the master of dystopian mayhem with a distinctive Australian edge.

May 27, 2024, updated May 27, 2024
Chris Hemsworth in 'Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga'. Photo: Jasin Boland / Warner Bros Pictures

Chris Hemsworth in 'Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga'. Photo: Jasin Boland / Warner Bros Pictures

It’s fair to say opinion has been divided with reviews calling it a masterpiece, overlong, and a victim of bad acting. Well, Furiosa is all these and more, a fantastically original Australian creation built on the throaty roar of souped-up carburettors and beast motorbikes overlaid with a menacing steampunk aesthetic.

The casting is (mainly) superb with a young Furiosa (Alyla Browne) a perfect precursor to the grown-up version (Anya Taylor-Joy) – who is herself but a younger version of one-armed Furiosa played by Charlize Theron in 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road.

The young girl comes from a place of abundance, The Green Place of Many Mothers, which is hidden from the drought-stricken, resource-strapped marauding punks who fight it out in the Wasteland. This is the secret she carries when her mother (Charlee Fraser) loses her life to the brutal warlord Dementus (Chris Hemsworth) who strings her up like a sacrificial lamb and makes the child watch.

The questionable acting arrives early. Hemsworth has built a career playing characters with astonishing musculature and good looks but his abilities seem not to extend into character and emotion. He shouts and declaims, and looks magnificent with a billowing cloak as he guides the reins of a Roman-style chariot led by three tethered motor bikes. He can transition from Thor to Ben Hur, but this mugging performance as a man without hope denies Dementus the chance for audience connection.

He only had to look to British actor Tom Burke in the role of Praetorian Jack for a masterclass. Burke not only conquers an effortless Australian accent, he is a sanguine warrior with a formidable arsenal and a compassionate knowingness that makes him a suitable love interest for the mighty Furiosa. In one prolonged scene, he fends off attacks from above – paragliding ninjas with javelins, chains and grappling hooks – and below, in this case, Furiosa. We are barracking madly for him as his giant silver rig is attacked in a 15-minute onslaught, and love him more when he greets Furiosa with a sweetly thoughtful pickup line praising her “purposeful savagery”. He trains her in the skills of desert battle and they return together to the fray.

The congested story unfolds over set chapters as the focus shifts to Gastown and the Citadel where white-faced kamikaze punks launch aerial attacks with exploding spears. The hidden jokes are good fun – meet Immortan Joe’s sons Scabrous Scrotus and Rictus Erectus – and include flashes of rock guitarists doing stage leaps above the fray. When Furiosa and Jack make a getaway in a hotted-up car, it is an old Valiant and the view from inside, Furiosa’s hands gripping the shuddering steering wheel, showcase its 1970s suspension.

The end is a long and messy because it tries too long and too hard to wring philosophical purpose from Furiosa’s revenge. Dementus is again the weak link because we care not, teddy bear aside, about why he is driven by nihilistic torment.

“The question is, do ya have it in ya to make it epic?”, he asks. She does.

Furiosa is in cinemas now.

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