Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga: George Miller’s ambitious prequel quickly loses steam

George Miller remains a master craftsman of bloody petrol-punk visuals, but this mythology-stuffed Furiosa backstory can’t match the momentum of Fury Road.

Anya Taylor-Joy as Furiosa
  • Reviewed from the 2024 Cannes Film Festival. 

The pleasures of George Miller’s Furiosa are in the details: a henchman with nipple holes punched out of his pinstriped suit; the teddy bear fastened to the film’s main villain Dementus (Chris Hemsworth); the astrological map tattooed on Furiosa’s left forearm, which shows the way to her native land, the fabled ‘Green Place’. Remember that, in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), Charlize Theron’s Furiosa has a mechanical arm – this prequel explains that dismemberment, building out an extended backstory that revisits multiple settings and characters from Fury Road while at its best maintaining that earlier film’s elaborately designed petrol-punk vibe, and showcasing what we already know: that Miller is a master craftsman with a visual language far more sophisticated than most contemporary Hollywood action movies. Still, Furiosa feels like a follow-up handed off to a hyper-competent but inferior second director – it has some of the moves, but they feel oddly flat despite a typical display of razzle-dazzle. 

Furiosa’s action scenes spread out more – where Fury Road was essentially one long chase scene, here there are several (plus a hearty helping of torture scenes and an aerial battle), assembled with crash zooms and epic panoramic shots, glowing and hyperreal in saturated digital colour. In one sense, Furiosa is more ambitious, encompassing half a life in order to take on mythological heft (like other films in the Mad Max universe, this one is narrated by a storyteller, in this case a tattooed elder). The first half follows Furiosa (Alyla Browne) as a child, seen in the opening shot hunting for fruit in a lush forest. She spots horse-eating marauders who threaten to destroy her Eden, the hidden home of her matriarchal tribe. The men kidnap her as proof to their leader that a promised land exists, and Furiosa’s mother, pointedly named Mary (Charlee Fraser), tracks her daughter through the desert in an extended sequence that ends on a bloody, biblical note. 

Mary’s fiery crucifixion prepares us for the sadism to come – in particular, from Hemsworth’s Dementus – though the intended brutality never truly punches the way it should. Dementus, who takes Furiosa in as his surrogate daughter (in practice, more like a caged pet), has a zany, sardonic bent to temper his wickedness; but Hemsworth isn’t funny enough or evil enough to make the (somewhat clichéd) characterisation memorable, and Furiosa’s eventual retribution feels muted and perfunctory. The conspicuous use of CGI takes the raw edge off many of the set pieces, slick but somewhat mechanical.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024)

It’s not a spoiler that Furiosa, played as an adult by Anya Taylor-Joy, eventually triumphs over Dementus: the fact that this is a prequel, and we know what will come for Furiosa as an older woman in Fury Road, saps this film of a lot of its narrative momentum. It is hard to feel that much is at stake, especially given the generic nature of the motivating revenge plot. 

Things pick up when Furiosa, steely and silent for most of the runtime, goes undercover as a ‘War Boy’ and starts working on a war rig – an armoured truck – manned by Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke), a brooding type in the vein of Tom Hardy’s Max. Jack eventually takes Furiosa under his wing, and the two also become lovers (not that they do much beyond forehead nuzzling), though Burke feels miscast, his steely silence less mysterious than passive, as if Jack were a bored employee. 

As for Taylor-Joy, her saucer eyes, always giving off the feel of a cursed Victorian child, offer some depth to her character’s scarred coming-of-age. Her intense, moody gaze carries the film’s sense of trauma, but her Furiosa doesn’t seem to evolve much beyond it. Once she slathers her face in inky black, assuming the look that will come to be associated with Theron’s Furiosa, Taylor-Joy essentially cosplays Theron’s butch interpretation of the role. 

Fury Road was remarkable for the electricity of its action, and each time the camera zoomed in on a zombielike War Boy, swinging wildly off a war rig, you felt icky, disturbed, captivated. Of course, but Furiosa can’t repeat the sense of novelty, but its deficiencies go beyond that: where are Miller’s famed practical effects? How come, say, Immortan Joe – the jaundiced freak with a lion’s mane – looks like an overstuffed puppet? Even with an original like George Miller at the wheel, this fuelled-up franchise is losing steam. 

► Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is in UK cinemas from 24 May.