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A Mad Max Saga

Director – George Miller – 2024 – Australia – Cert. 15 – 148m


Kidnapped by a biker gang she attacks, young Furiosa must make her way in the desert wasteland populated by despots, bikers, and gas truck drivers – out in UK cinemas on Friday, May 124h

In the forest where fruit is plentiful near her home, young Furiosa (Alyla Browne, the lead in the upcoming Sting, LINK, Kiah Roache-Turner, 2023) spots a group of bikers who capture her as she tries to cut their bikes’ fuel lines. Her mother Mary Jabasa (Charlee Fraser) sets off across the desert in pursuit, stealing a bike from one of their number, only to be captured and crucified. Furiosa is taken to the biker’s despotic and nomadic leader Dementus (Chris Hemsworth), later escaping and falling in with gas truck driver Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke). Furiosa becomes a young woman (Anya Taylor-Joy) who as Jack’s protégé learns everything he knows.

The desert economy, where gasoline is the most precious commodity, consists of a wasteland in which are situated three strongholds: Gas Town, The Citadel and The Bullet Farm.

This prequel to Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015) was essentially written at the same time as that film as part of the process of understanding the backstory of Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). That film’s story takes place over a few days, whereas the new prequel spans some fifteen years and uses two separate younger actresses, both of them impressive and completely convincing as the same character at two different ages – something of a coup to pull off as far as casting goes. Especially since the two performances are very different. Browne is on the screen for the first hour or hour and a half, Taylor-Joy for the remainder. The transition between the two different actresses – indicating the passage of several years – is seamless.

Browne is a restless, unstoppable ball of energy whereas Taylor-Joy’s version of the character seems more locked into her interior world, which is not to say the latter’s performance isn’t physical – it’s more that, even though she is required to move around a lot physically, there’s an evident internal focus. Something similar happens with Tom Burke’s performance as Praetorian Jack, as if the effect of the post-apocalyptic world they both inhabit is to lock people inside their own heads as an act of self-preservation. In the absence of Max himself, he functions as a sort of Max surrogate within the mid-section of the narrative.

The other major cast member, Chris Hemsworth, plays Dementus as a humourous showman and raconteur whose persona as such masks a cruel brutality. Somewhere hanging on his clothing is a teddy bear, indicating a formerly loved child from a family in a world that no longer exists. Although Hemsworth’s Dementus is a solid-enough villain and the actor’s performance finely crafted here, it closely resembles (more by chance and coincidence than anything else) Jason Momoa’s scene-stealing, over-the-top, throwaway villain in the otherwise largely lacklustre Fast X (Louis Leterrier, 2023). Which is odd, because the Mad Max films (this one included) generally exhibit far more substance than the later Fast & Furious entries. The Mad Max films are unquestionably an auteur with a unique vision, whereas the F&F franchise grew out of a decent Hollywood movie that got unexpectedly lucky at the box office.

Furiosa is the first of the Mad Max films not to feature the eponymous Max in a starring role (he gets a cameo in an instantly recognisable tableau looking out over travelling vehicles from a high up vantage point). The narrative through-line is instead built around this film’s equally eponymous female lead; if you were going to tell one story about Furiosa, it would probably be the one at the centre of Fury Road. Some will no doubt argue that the new prequel is a pointless addition, but I suspect that watching the two films in a double bill (Furiosa followed by Fury Road), especially if played back-to-back on the largest screen you could find, would prove a rewarding experience. Certainly, you don’t need to have seen Fury Road to enjoy the new prequel, and vice versa.

While the filmpossessesenough plot to function effectively, the story per se isn’t what’s great about it. It’s fascinating as an insight into what drives the Furiosa character, and also for the opening reel’s glimpse of the Green Place from where she originally came, succinctly described by one of the kidnapping bikers as “a place of abundance”. We see a thriving, seemingly democratic, coastal community where everyone seems to live well, surrounded by lush jungle. Given that everywhere else here is either harsh desert or one of the three man-made strongholds, you can understand why the central character would want to make her way back there (which is the same motivation driving her in Fury Road).

If considerations about character form the film’s core, that’s not to say that Miller doesn’t push himself and his collaborators in the areas of action / stunts and production design. While I couldn’t tell you where the joins are, at least not on one viewing, I got the impression that computers have played a bigger role than on any previous Mad Max outing. The press handouts suggest much use was made of Motion Capture (MoCap) this time round, and notes that technology has advanced considerably between the making of the two films.

Nevertheless, as with previous franchise entries, there is a huge quantity of stunt work, much of it involving bikes, not to mention a lengthy sequence with a (souped up) gasoline tanker somewhere in the middle of the film. These sequences – which are one of the reasons audiences want to see a Mad Max film – are as enthralling as anything in any of the previous instalments. So too with all the amazing two- and four-wheeled vehicles, not to mention the incredible costume design by the legendary Jenny Beavan.

Although it might be true that many performances in action movies are more about the stunts than the acting, I’ve never felt that about George Miller’s Mad Max films, which for all their bravura stunt work are essentially character-driven. This latest Mad Max entry may not be the series’ strongest, yet it too is character-based and remains very much a George Miller film that delivers everything that admirers of the franchise want and expect from it.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, May 24th.



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