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All sound and Furiosa


Is it so strange that the 79-year-old legend of Australian cinema George Miller would continually return to the Mad Max franchise that launched his almost five-decade-long career? Apocalyptic wastelands with their cacophony of blaring engines and vistas of desert panoramas are second nature to him by now. 

Furiosa is entry number five in the Mad Max universe and a prequel to 2015’s Fury Road but with a mostly new cast (there’s also a sixth in the works called The Wasteland – no apologies to T.S. Eliot). Furiosa stars Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen’s Gambit) in the title role and Chris Hemsworth as the villainous Dementus who plays it with a dumb and brawny charisma. 

And for a prequel, Furiosa feels, for the most part, fresh and fun. Miller is obviously at home with his usual themes of grief, anger and hope but with a revenge fantasy twist à la Kill Bill, as our heroine spends the film hunting down the man who killed her mother. 

The film begins following the miseries of a young Furiosa, (Alyla Browne), who witnesses her mother murdered by kidnappers before being whisked into the endless desolation of the sand dunes where she is chained up and sold. Establishing this backstory ends up taking an hour, but like it or not, we live in a world marked by Dune 2 and Oppenheimer runtimes.

Finally, an hour in, we get to see Furiosa played by doe-eyed Anya Taylor-Joy with a force and resonance. Unlike Charlize Theron’s previous take on the character, this new younger hero is scrappier and more energised, as she chases a homecoming in the hope of capturing a past that is long lost. Her grief, so fresh and poignant, fuels this hell-bent revenge saga. 

As Furiosa’s nemesis, Hemsworth is obviously relishing the opportunity to show off his comedic timing as Dementus, infusing bursts of humour into the cataclysmic atmosphere. You want him to survive the film, but if you’ve seen Fury Road [spoiler alert] you know he isn’t going to. 

The film features some impressively grand set pieces like the Bullet Farm, where our heroine is vulnerable, without ever being a damsel in distress, and risk-taking without ever being an annoying Mary Sue. Furiosa teams up with Praetorian Jack (portrayed by a dashing Tom Burke) to take on Dementus, and when you think the film has reached its climax, there’s still plenty of action left in Miller’s tank. When the saucer eyes framed by a dirtied face rises close to the camera and Taylor-Joy declares, ‘I am Furiosa,’ her revenge is right around the corner. And boy is it weird. We leave Furiosa not at a climactic conclusion but at more of a juncture, a middling point to set up another sequel that, until this week, seemed inevitable. 

Because fans of the film (myself included) must sadly admit that Furiosa is tanking at the box office, and is only the most recent in a string of female-led actioners that have had trouble resonating with audiences. Granted, some of these have been genuinely awful cinematic abominations like Madame Web. But The Hunger Games revival starring Rachel Zegler was solid, yet failed to draw crowds. And Marvel, which once enjoyed uncontested domination of box office receipts, couldn’t successfully launch The Marvels following fruitless years of development. But when you throw the ultra-successful Barbie into the mix, it must leave Hollywood executives all scratching their heads. It might just be a quality issue. Barbie was done well, powered by a director’s singular vision; The Marvels was noticeably less so. But Furiosa was decent, so what’s the problem? Could it be that audiences are starting to reject the now-ubiquitous female-centric action film? Sadly, that’s the sort of easy answer Hollywood execs will likely gravitate towards. 

The two recent Mad Max efforts (perhaps problematically named and marketed, given neither have much to do with Mad Max) are sisters in more ways than seems intentional; both attempts are a return to form for Miller who had lost a degree of credibility as an auteur following the successful but artistically hollow Happy Feet movies of the 2000s. Fury Road not only restored the goodwill he once enjoyed, it reinvigorated Miller’s career commercially and also earned him two Oscar noms (the less said about Three Thousand Years of Longing the better). Another film in the Mad Max universe would be welcome, but who’s to say whether The Wasteland will eventuate now. 

There’s plenty to enjoy about Furiosa along with a love-it-or-hate-it ending and a fair smattering of unanswered questions about the story. After this, a solidly entertaining action film with wonderful visual design and sharply-drawn characters, many will conclude that George Miller has lost his touch for making female-led action films successful. After the string of recent female-led box office flops, it seems the only person who knows the secret is Greta Gerwig.




Eddie Hampson is a literary and film critic.


Topic tags: Eddie Hampson, Furiosa, George Miller, Mad Max, Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Hemsworth



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This was a great read

Maddie Pitman | 31 May 2024  

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