Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga review: richer than ever before

Unlike any other Mad Max movie before it, Furiosa is expansive, character-centric, and revisits the past. And it does all that while delivering stunning action.

Akhil Arora, a member of the Film Critics Guild and a Rotten Tomatoes-certified film critic, who watched Furiosa in IMAX. He has been reviewing movies and TV series since 2015 and has written for NDTV and SlashFilm.

Anya-Taylor Joy in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga
Anya-Taylor Joy in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga // Photo: Jasin Boland/Warner Bros.

Less than an hour into Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga—the franchise’s first prequel, first spin-off, and first movie centred on a woman—the audience is treated to a 15-minute ultra-complex action sequence. In it, a young Furiosa (Anya Taylor-Joy), who has hidden herself to escape the brutal and captive life she’s known, is caught in a raid on a newly built War Rig. It’s a giant of a thing—an all-wheel drive truck pulling a chrome-plated tanker, with a rail on top that allows men to defend it, and two digger arms attached to the side to deal with nuisances. The scene is even more fascinating. What begins as a parasail wing shooting out of a motorcycle is just the start. It has countless moving parts—the multiple fliers add dynamism to the set piece—and yet it’s all coherent and easy to follow.

On top of that, it gives its disguised star—Furiosa—not one, not two, but several moments to shine. Taylor-Joy spends the extended sequence traversing the War Rig as two lovers do with each other’s bodies. She’s under it for much of the early running, keeping enemies at bay, fixing the engines, and holding on for dear life. Later, she’s at the front, putting out fires and starting new ones. And finally, she’s on top, taking on the tasks of others and saving the day. It’s not just the ingenuity that’s impressive—the execution is, too. And it took everything out of Taylor-Joy, director George Miller, and his crew. The scene was filmed over 78 days—across a five-month period—and needed nearly 200 seconds-long shots. It’s the glorious pinnacle of Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.

Anya-Taylor Joy in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Every Mad Max movie, ranked

From Furiosa to Fury Road, Rotten Tomatoes-certified film critic Akhil Arora ranks every Mad Max movie ever made.

Furiosa is the longest Mad Max movie ever

More importantly, that’s not all the movie has to offer. If Mad Max has a history of being barebones, Furiosa is a different beast. Expansive in both time and scale, the narrative offers a ton. So much so that Miller—and his returning co-writer Nico Lathouris (Mad Max: Fury Road)—chose to divide Furiosa into five chapters with onscreen titles. It possibly offers too much, in fact. At 148 minutes, Furiosa is the longest Mad Max to ever exist and some might rightly take issue with its pacing. While most Mad Max films have been condensed, Furiosa does the opposite. It repeatedly cuts to black. It’s got time jumps—a first for the franchise. But for those who felt lost in Fury Road’s leanness and refusal to offer meat on the story bones, Furiosa is the movie they were looking for.

It ends not in some elaborate chase—as with Fury Road, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome—but with two characters simply talking to one another. As the title indicates, it is indeed a saga. But because of all that it packs, Furiosa is also richer for it. It is quite possibly the best Mad Max movie ever.

An unhinged Chris Hemsworth and a muted Anya Taylor-Joy

Kicking off with a reminder of how its wasteland came to be, Furiosa sets the stage for those who haven’t seen a Mad Max movie before. (And given it’s been nine years since the last one, I suppose everyone else could do with a refresher too.) That said, the scenes during the end credits—which essentially summarise its predecessor—will make no sense to those who haven’t seen Fury Road. Early into Furiosa, the young protagonist (Alyla Browne) is snatched from home—The Green Place—and brought to Dementus (Chris Hemsworth), a maniacal, red-headed, long-bearded ruler of a Biker Horde who wears a cape like he’s walked off the sets of a Thor movie straight into the Mad Max universe.

Ripped from home, Furiosa finds herself living under an impossibly ambitious butcher who delights in upending the order and unleashing chaos even if it were to consume him. Dementus believes in his own might too much to ever consider the possibility that he might be doomed by his own schemes. Hemsworth is unhinged in the role—he delivers what feels like Heath Ledger’s Joker take on Dementus but with the machismo dialled up to 11 and the smarts dialled down to 2. Taylor-Joy is muted and reserved because that’s what the role demands of her. She spends much of the first half in silence as she’s trying to conceal herself from those around her. The Queen’s Gambit star is made to rely solely on her eyes for long stretches.

Mild spoilers ahead for Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga. Skip the next paragraph if you wish.

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

Furiosa is the full life

Furiosa is unlike any Mad Max movie in that it revisits multiple facets of a previous instalment and expands on things that were merely referenced last time around. Nearly every stray mention in Fury Road is fleshed out. Both Gastown and Bullet Farm—which were mentioned but never shown in the previous Mad Max movie—are the setting of an extended sequence. The Green Place is also shown. And we return to Citadel, where we are treated to younger versions of Fury Road characters alongside new ones who didn’t exist in that instalment. While the earlier Mad Max films always moved on to a different part of the wasteland, with Furiosa, we’re going through places and people we’ve previously seen for the first time.

This is new territory for Miller—as is what this Mad Max movie is about. Max was already an adult (with a wife and a baby) in a declining world when we met him in the original 1979 film. By the end, he was a shell of a man. The three sequels since have done little to expand on his character. They’ve been more about the world around him and how he finds the last of his humanity to help out. In Fury Road, Max was a peripheral presence in terms of the narrative. Furiosa was the film’s heart. With Furiosa, Miller is giving us the full life of a person, from losing her childhood and innocence to being traded like property and embracing vengeance as a lifestyle.

The film is deeper and more meaningful. It’s also bleaker than the ones before it—her quest cannot satisfy her, replace what she lost, and make things whole again. Plus, you have the knowledge of what lies ahead.

A long time coming

For 30 years following Beyond Thunderdome, there was no new Mad Max movie until 2015. If Miller had his way, he would’ve given us two more films by now: Furiosa and The Wasteland, a sequel to Fury Road that seemingly remains in development. But thanks to a pay dispute and a resulting lawsuit with distributor Warner Bros., Furiosa has taken nine years to fruition. What hasn’t changed is that Miller always planned to recast the title character—originally played by Charlize Theron in Fury Road—for this prequel spin-off.

Anya-Taylor Joy in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga
Anya-Taylor Joy atop the War Rig in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga // Photo: Jasin Boland/Warner Bros.

That choice makes even more sense given the long gap and the period Furiosa spans. When Taylor-Joy first appears on screen, she feels like a diminutive figure. Under the black cloth that covers most of her face, the overbearing cap on her head, and the baggy workman clothes she’s put in, it’s hard to tell if that’s actually her or a VFX-altered version. Across the new Mad Max movie, Furiosa may not grow in size, but her stature definitely does. By the end, as Miller traces her in silhouette, she feels like the famed warrior—the Imperator—we’ve known.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga released on May 23 in cinemas in Australia, India, and New Zealand, and on May 24 in the US, the UK, Canada, and Ireland.

Akhil Arora