FURIOSA: A MAD MAX SAGA – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

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The woman with close-cropped hair and a mask of black engine grease stares down an adversary in a golden desert, her liquid eyes full of pain and rage.
“Remember me?” she says.

And how.

Eight years after Mad Max: Fury Road introduced one of the most electrifying female action heroes in decades with Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa, the character returns in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga. While this prequel and origin story is quieter in some respects than the pedal-to-the-metal feel of Fury Road, it’s still an arresting post-apocalyptic adventure with a satisfying backstory that actually enriches the earlier film. From setups that pay off in Fury Road to echoes in visuals, sound, and theme, it’s a marvelous bit of filmmaking.

Part of that is due no doubt to the synergy behind the scenes. Director George Miller reteams with several creatives from the Fury Road team, including co-writer Nico Lathouris, editor Margaret Sixel, costume designer Jenny Beavan, production designer Colin Gibson, and composer Tom Holkenborg. Although filming in New South Wales, Australia, instead of the Namibian desert, cinematographer Simon Duggan (Disenchanted) again uses deep nighttime blues and rich daytime golds in the color palette. Yet earth tones and flashes of red also dominate, befitting a wasteland of fire and blood, gas and exhaust, gunfire and chrome.

Anya Taylor-Joy (The Menu) steps into the title role, a recasting that makes some chronological sense for a prequel but dissonant at first for anyone who found Theron captivating. That said, while the two performers differ in build and styles, Taylor-Joy conveys the same fierce spirit and calculated determination. She even mimics Theron’s cadences a few times.

The world’s gone to hell as it always has in these films, with the History Man (George Shevtsov), sporting head-to-toe tattoos and knowledge of life before such dire times, wondering how we “brave such cruelties” as the film opens. For scrappy young Furiosa (Alyla Browne, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart), this means protecting her Eden-like home, the Green Place of Many Mothers. But a handful of bikers soon discover the girl trying to disable their rides and snatch her.

The girl’s mother, Mary Jabassa (Charlee Fraser, Anyone But You), gives chase, determined to rescue Furiosa as much as keep their oasis a secret. A child with clear skin and good teeth is proof of a place of abundance—something the bikers can offer gang leader Dementus (Chris Hemsworth, Extraction II) in exchange for joining his group.

Considering Fury Road lies ahead, it’s no spoiler to say the rescue fails, setting Furiosa on the path to eventually meeting and working for the warlord Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme, Preacher). If there’s any drawback to Furiosa, it’s knowing what happens in Fury Road. Here, she arrives at Immortan Joe’s outpost, the Citadel, where he has natural springs, a clifftop garden, a harem of entrapped “brides” to produce his heirs, and bald acolytes called the War Boys. Here too are Joe’s familiar frenemies, the People Eater (John Howard) and the Bullet Farmer (Lee Perry).

Yet Furiosa proves rewarding in its own right. True, it adds poignant context to her quest for redemption in Fury Road, but it also shows Furiosa finding ways to survive, whether she’s foiling sexual abuse or falling in with the gearheads to get closer to a “war rig,” a massive truck entrusted to drive across the wasteland for trade.

The action scenes are crisp and inventive, encompassing wide and medium shots, parachutes and other implements. They also tap into a larger theme of trust, something Furiosa finds with Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke, The Lazarus Project), a war rig driver who initially admires her fighting skills. Their relationship is short on dialogue; yet like Furiosa and Mad Max in Fury Road, they share a wealth of respect through their eyes alone—and in quiet moments, a promise of more.

As the warlords bickered and schemed, I remembered 1985’s Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, where a leader mused she was nobody before the nuclear war. Furiosa’s self-styled men-in-charge seem little different, crafting their own rules and trading commodities like gasoline, ammunition, produce, and people when they’re not conniving how to outwit each other. They’re either drunk on power, insane, bored, or all of the above.

As Dementus, Hemsworth conveys this complexity well. Riding a motorcycle-drawn chariot, adding to his titles and attire, he at first seems like a strutting rooster, occasionally dim and holding power through cruelty. Then flashes of kindness and grief appear, remnants of the man he used to be, along with gravitas.

Hate, he reasons, is what keeps us out of the grave—but if that’s all that drove Furiosa, she’d have flamed out. Among its unflinching violence and desperation, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga finds strength in seeds of hope.

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Valerie Kalfrin

Valerie Kalfrin is an award-winning crime journalist turned freelance film writer whose work appears at RogerEbert.com, In Their Own League, Script, The Hollywood Reporter, and other outlets. Also a screenwriter and script consultant, she’s passionate about challenging stereotypes about gender and disability. Let’s tell better stories and tell stories better.