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Review: 'Furiosa - A Mad Max Saga' or Wasteland Re-Revisited

: Kurt Loder on

George Miller's last "Mad Max" movie, the 2015 "Fury Road," was such a titanic achievement -- an action classic that all but ran you over -- that you wondered if he could ever possibly top it. Now, with the new prequel "Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga," we have the answer. And the answer is: possibly, but not right now.

"Furiosa" is a top-flight action film -- from the shot designs to the hell-on-wheels stunt work to the awesome, hammers-of-doom score by Tom Holkenborg, it definitely does its job. There are problems, though, and since "Furiosa" is half an hour longer than "Fury Road," we have time to notice them.

First, the two stars -- Anya Taylor-Joy and Chris Hemsworth, both highly appealing performers -- are miscast. In playing the title character -- a younger edition of Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa in the previous film -- Taylor-Joy hasn't been given enough dialogue to create a full performance (her character is an old-school, strong-and-silent type); and her peculiar, serpentine beauty -- a considerable artistic asset -- is muted by the slick of automotive facial grime through which her big brown eyes peer out.

Hemsworth has a different problem. Having honed his comic charm with over a decade of playing Thor in the Marvel movies, he is here asked to take two conflicting approaches to his character, a bike-gang leader called Dementus. This loud, beardy fellow is ostensibly the villain of the story; but in this harsh world, as incarnated by Hemsworth, he's too light and goofy to project much menace. ("I've been waiting for someone worthy of me," he tells a lucky lady.) And just when you begin to hope the actor will take this guy all the way to the fun side, Dementus suddenly demonstrates a taste for human "blood sausage."

The movie is also slow to get going. It begins in the Green Place -- the Edenic sanctuary to which Charlize Theron was attempting to return in "Fury Road" (only to ultimately learn it had been destroyed). Here we get the backstory. As a little girl, some 45 years after the societal collapse that turned the outside world into a wasteland (or the Wasteland, as it's officially styled), Furiosa lived in the Green Place with the Vuvalini, or "Many Mothers," among them her own rifle-packing mom (Charlee Fraser). One day we see her being captured by young Dementus' bandit horde and are unsurprised when very terrible things start to happen almost immediately.

Dementus keeps little Furiosa around (in a cage), hoping to learn more about her verdant homeland, which he would like very much to invade and despoil. Eventually, envisioning the creation of a brave new Wasteland in which he might play an exalted role, Dementus pays a visit to a fortress with which we're already familiar from the last picture -- the Citadel, home of the battle-blond warlord Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme) and his pasty-faced army of fanatical War Boys. (Around in here, Alyla Browne, the actor who has been ably playing the young Furiosa, steps out and is replaced, with wonderful subtlety, by Taylor-Joy, who proceeds to kick many butts.)

 

At age 79, Miller, who has also made excellent movies about talking pigs and dancing penguins, remains a virtuoso of cinematic action. And all his Wasteland trademarks are here: the roaring bike swarms, the incessant pyrotechnics, along with a few new tricks. There's been some carping about the arrival of CGI in Miller's world, starting with "Fury Road." I don't think this is a tremendously big deal, but computerization does alter the nature of the Mad Max gestalt -- the original thrill of these movies was a function of watching fearless stuntmen racing around in mutant dune buggies and risking their lives for real.

What's also missed this time out is an actual Max figure, like the one played by Tom Hardy in "Fury Road." There's another amiable mope in that mode here -- a character called Praetorian Jack, played by Tom Burke -- but he's so mild of manner that he barely registers, especially as a possible love match for Furiosa. And while Taylor-Joy is never anything other than fine in the title role, it's hard not to think back to Charlize Theron's strong take on the character, and her ability to convey the woman's grit and sorrow with little more than her weary face and battered physique. (Speaking of which, high five to Taylor-Joy for the electrifying scene in which she does frantic battle while hanging upside down on the underside of a speeding truck.) (High five to the camera op, too, I guess.)

The "Mad Max" franchise may be showing its age a bit -- the first film came out 45 years ago. That's a lot of screaming choppers, rampaging leather boys and endless, red-desert vistas. Somebody might want to check the gas, but as long as Miller stays on the job, any future sequels (the next one's already in the works) are unlikely to go entirely unwatched.

To find out more about Kurt Loder and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators website at www.creators.com.

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Copyright 2024 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

 

 

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