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'Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga' Review

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May 21, 2024
Hunter Friesen
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Since the relative conclusion of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been an increasing urge to claim that a certain film “needs to be experienced on the biggest screen possible.” While it is true that no television can match the sharpness and brightness of a theatrical projection (if handled well, which is becoming more of a rarity these days), the notion that every movie with a budget over $100 million needs to be seen in the cinema does water down the uniqueness of the ones that truly push the medium forward. I can tell you for a fact that Argylle wouldn’t have been harmed had it bypassed its theatrical release and gone straight to Apple TV+. I can also say the inverse of that towards Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, and that anyone who chooses to experience George Miller’s newest extravaganza outside of the cinema deserves the same amount of ire that David Lynch has for phones.

The screen pops and the sound system roars with each successive introduction to a motorcycle. But it’s not done as an act of fetishization for the aesthetic of the machinery, it’s about the newfound importance of bikes in the wasteland. Along with bullets, they are just as much a part of the hierarchy of needs as food and water. The world is now a desolate desert of nothingness, with none of its inhabitants possessing the survival skills of Arrakis’ Fremen population from Dune. Murder and thievery is the new name of the game.

But hidden away from all the destruction amongst the sand is an oasis of abundance called “The Green Place.” Furiosa and her family escaped the ravaged land to live there, but their paradise is encroached on by a biker gang who kidnap Furiosa to take her back to their leader Dementus (Chris Hemsworth donning a wild set of fake teeth and nose prosthetics). A relentless chase across the desert ensues, one whose consequences will shape Furiosa’s outlook on the world.

But from there, things slow down. True to the subtitle, Miller and co-writer Nick Lathouris treat Furiosa’s journey as a saga, complete with chapters. Each contains its own set piece and three-act structure, but this is not the non-stop onslaught of action that Fury Road was. This is a prequel, after all, so time is well spent on introducing (and reintroducing) the elements and characters of this universe. Gas Town, Bullet Town, and the Citadel are back; and so is Immortan Joe (now played by Lachy Hulme) and his War Boys. Even with all its operativeness, Miller still indulges in the silliness of the world and concepts, such as Joe’s sons Rictus Erectus and Scrotus. And let’s not forget Pissboy, whose weapon of choice is exactly what you think it is.

It’s that combination of grit and goofy that has marked the high points of Miller’s nearly five-decade-long career. You only have to look for a few seconds on his IMDb page to notice that Happy Feet Two and Mad Max: Fury Road are squished right next to each other on the timeline. The carnage is gruesome and the body count is quite high as Miller takes an almost Biblical approach akin to the world just before God’s flood. There’s still a popcorn-munching delight in the carnage, not out of guilt, but out of the pleasure of seeing the process executed by masters of their craft. Margaret Sixel’s (and co-editor Eliot Knapman's) editing is just as propulsive as it was before, with the rhythms of the action likely to be matched by your heartbeat. Junkie XL’s booming score beckons closely to his work on Fury Road (not a bad thing!), most noticeable during the show-stopping “Stairway to Nowhere” sequence.

If there is to be one complaint - a minor one nonetheless - it is the price of a bigger scale in the form of a slight overreliance on visual effects. A few backdrops and ragdoll effects look a little questionable, although never to the extent the first trailer led us to believe. It’s also hard to be too overly critical, as Miller’s flawless mixture of practicality and technicals on Fury Road raised the bar so high that no one might be able to clear it going forward. Simon Duggan’s photography isn’t as sweeping as John Seale’s on Fury Road, but he gets across the finish line with some angles and movements.

Anya Taylor-Joy solidifies her blockbuster chops in the titular role, her eyes even more striking when surrounded by grease paint. Miller takes a similar stance on dialogue as Denis Villeneuve, opting for his actor’s expressions and camera to do much of the talking. However, that strategy doesn’t apply to Hemsworth, who chews up the scenery each chance he gets. The pristine IMAX visuals do make his prosthetics quite glaring, but that phoniness is one of the leading characteristics of his messianic figure. While they don’t have their names on the poster, Alyla Browne and Tom Burke are exceptional as Young Furiosa and Praetorian Jack, respectively.

Furiosa may not surpass Fury Road, but I don’t think that was ever the intention, at least not directly. At the very least, it’ll be regarded as the best pure action film of the year, and be another be another notch for Miller’s claim to be the best to ever do it. So, what does the 79-year-old Australian do now that he’s conquered the desert twice? Go and do it again, of course!

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