Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga Review

Cannes 2024: Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga Review

It’s difficult to overstate just what an immense achievement Mad Max: Fury Road was when it debuted in Cannes back in 2015. Having grown up with the three Gibson originals, having even seen a twisted Tina Turner belting out about needing another hero, there was little in the way of expectation that we’d be treated to anything more than a smash-em-up action piece. Sure, George Miller had crafted further pioneering works like Babe that elevated the art of integrating CGI with live action, and his Happy Feet films were far from most dire family fare, but it was easy then to think of this as little more than a nostalgic reboot.

Instead, we were treated to a flat-out masterpiece, one of the great films of the century, and surely one of the most immense action films ever created.

So despite it leaning heavily into the same aesthetic that brought us Fury Road, I strongly suggest that audiences go into Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga with expectations dialed way back, similar to the time a decade ago when many were weirdly worrying about whether it would work without Mel Gibson in the lead.

At the press conference after the debut screening, George Miller admitted that for Fury Road, he had developed a backstory for the two main characters, Max and Furiosa, to help the cast and crew come to terms with Bullet Farms, Gasoline Towns, Warboys, and Imperators. This material serves as the source for Furiosa, as well as a potential second prequel film that could follow Max’s travails depending on the box office success of this chapter.


While so much of the magic of Fury is found in, well, its furious pace, a tale told over two and a half days, the narrative of this chapter lives up to the scope of a saga in its title. Aussie actress Alyla Browne plays young Furiosa, picking hard-to-reach fruit in an Eden-like environment that, in a strange coincidence, mirrors a similar scene in the recent Planet of the Apes franchise. Joseph Campbell would be pleased, if he could stomach modern blockbusters that is.

Browne occupies a considerable amount of the running time of the film, and her fierce stare and strong presence favours well even when the role is taken over by the acclaimed Anya Taylor-Joy, a true credit to the casting department. Chris Hemsworth is a newly minted baddie named Dementus with a bit more complexity than the “kill them all” dynamic of the last film, giving a soupçon of seriousness to an otherwise broad and brawny archetype.

The dynamic between Joy’s Furiosa and another newcomer, Tom Burke’s Praetorian Jack, feels a bit more rote than perhaps intended, once again illustrating just how effective the claustrophobic setting of Fury Road was for establishing chemistry between the protagonists in that chapter.

Unsurprisingly the scope of the action is again bonkers, yet it’s this very nature of lacking true surprise that makes it all feel very much cut from the same cloth. Sure, there’s plenty more bikers, and I did applaud the ecclesiastical fetishization of gears, crankshafts, and engine fluids that brings further texture to the world. The integration of digital doubles with the on-set stunt work seems a little bit more haphazard here (it’s possible that they’re still finalizing some shots, as the cut was done mere days ago), but even the best of AI processing and hundreds of animators can authentically make a person jumping on a running horse or tumbling off the back of a speeding vehicle from a high-angle shot feel like human impact rather than colliding pixels.


There are also fewer moments here of the beautiful stillness interspersed with the truly manic energy of Fury Road, making things at once feel more comprehensible and thus far less like the coaster ride of the last project. The deliberate pacing of the narrative told over years echoes in some ways the more didactic telling, complete with title cards to remind us that, yeah, the place they make the bullets named the Bullet Farm is one of the main settlements in these desolate lands. (Provably Australia, thanks this time to a satellite-view push in that begins the film!)

It may seem completely churlish to directly compare to what came before, but the film actually encourages this explicitly. [Minor spoiler ahead]. Both the beginning and end scenes dovetail directly into the events of the previous film, making the film all the more explicitly a visualization of what’s just hinted at during Fury Road’s own audio prologue. Meanwhile, actual footage of Charlize is used to overtly tie the two together, and the montage of bit from the 2015 film immediately demonstrate a kinetic intensity, visual imagination and sumptuous photographic style that this chapter simply cannot fully live up to.

And so, in attempting to divorce all this baggage from chapter four when considering chapter five, what’s one to make of Furiosa? Well, I for one can’t wait for a rewatch, to be unburdened from expectation and simply enjoy the myriad pieces that Miller and his army of thousands have assembled. While Taylor-Joy is mute for much of the film, her eyes effectively draw us in to the inner drive of her character, making her tale of survival all the more believable. Hemsworth hasn’t been this on point in years, and his dualistic take on Dementus is one of the film’s obvious highlights.

But above all, this is a film that continues to recognize the pure cinematic joy of this type of story, where action, montage, score, sound effect all merge to craft an experience that no other art, from the small screen to the stage to the written word, can truly challenge. This is big screen fun demanding a big canvas, and to see it with an enthusiastic crowd is an absolute must to get the most out of its telling.


So while this iteration Furiosa pales in comparison to what came the film before (both literally and metaphorically), Miller manages to once again extend his streak by crafting a damn fine bit of brash blockbuster fun. At a time when such collective enthusiasms are diminishing, there’s something to be said about gathering as a community to revel in motorbikes roaring over sand dunes, people flinging themselves off of one vehicle to another, and the visceral feeling when that second engine finally does kick in. The stunts are great, the story is decent, the performances heightened but shaded enough to be interesting, and the explosions big and numerous.

Yet if all this film does is remind what a masterpiece Fury Road is, then, perhaps, that is enough. But on it’s own, as much as it’s possible to divorce from what came just before, there’s plenty to celebrate about the almost fabulous Furiosa.