In the nearly ten years since Mad Max: Fury Road was released, we’ve come to further appreciate exactly what George Miller accomplished with it. Not only did he revive a franchise whose previous entries had been of varying quality, making it the most vital version of itself, but he created a very specific new aesthetic that expanded on that of the original trilogy, relying even more on practical effects and stunts, while suffusing everything with a rusty orange tinge. The overall impact was so profound that the only way to honour the achievement was with an Oscar nomination for best picture.


Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga was a logical way to get us back into that world, and we’re glad to be back. However, the prequel focusing on the younger years of Fury Road’s most interesting character does not share Fury Road’s same sense of creating something new. Any exposure to this world, with its revving engines and steampunk stylings and composition from the detritus of a forgotten society, is good exposure. But Furiosa can only ever be a percentage of what Fury Road was, as it yields to the Easter eggs and fan service that weigh down any modern-day prequel intent on hedging its bets.

This is a decidedly more Australian film, a function of it being shot in New South Wales rather than Namibia, which meant that the supporting cast could be filled out with distinctly Australian character actors. The opening of the film even zooms in from space on our fair country, tending to underscore a geographical specificity that is of questionable value. Are we meant to be focusing on the idea that this is a uniquely Australian response to catastrophe and apocalypse? Or might we be better off thinking of it is as a human response, divorced from a particular culture or mindset, or the inevitable musings about how Europeans might be handling the same conditions?

Charlize Theron’s Furiosa was the breakout character in Fury Road, so much so that Max himself was relegated to a supporting character. Here she’s played by Anya Taylor-Joy for most of the movie, though we start in Furiosa’s younger years when she grew up in the idyllic green place she had been hoping to find in the first movie. Spending more time in this green place might have given us some of that something new this film is lacking, but the story moves on pretty quickly with Furiosa’s kidnapping by masked scavengers, never to return to that location.

The young girl, at this point played by Alyla Browne, is delivered into the hands of Dr. Dementus (Chris Hemsworth), the leader of this biker horde who has a theatrical way about him. He’s got his designs on Gastown, one of three outposts in this wasteland along with the Bullet Farm, and the Citadel, recognisable as the domain of Immortan Joe in Fury Road. Because Hugh Keayes-Byrne is no longer with us, and he’d need to be younger anyway, Joe is played here by Lachy Hulme, with nary a removal of his ominous gas mask in the hopes that we might not notice.


You wouldn’t call the story the strength of Fury Road either, but in Furiosa it’s even more slippery to grasp. Suffice it to say that the various players in this landscape are grappling for territory gains, with high-speed battles on trucks and motorcycles helping to decide the balance of control over water and guzzoline. Meanwhile in the background, Furiosa bides her time for vengeance against Dementus for the murder of her mother, who came looking for her after she was abducted.

When Hemsworth put his hand up to be involved in this movie, it was something George Miller never could have turned down, and his Dementus is indeed an entertaining adversary. However, his character is one of the biggest problems in terms of recapturing Fury Road’s foreboding tone. Because he has established himself as a first-rate comedic presence over the last ten years, Hemsworth was never going to be able to avoid playing this character as a sort of preening jester, which prevents him from achieving the sort of fear factor easily conjured by Keayes-Byrne that Hulme manages to continue here. And while we’re always going to want to see Hemsworth hauling out every tool in his bag, it makes Furiosa more of a comedy than it probably intended to be, to say nothing of undercutting the title character’s quest for revenge.


Oddly, in a way similar to how Mad Max got lost in the movie that bore his name, Furiosa gets a bit lost here too. It’s always her story, but she sometimes fades into the background amongst the political wranglings of the men. And if there weren’t already enough men on screen, she’s given a Max-style companion here too in the form of Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke), the commander of the Citadel’s war rig. A movie that is supposed to show us the fires that forged this badass woman accidentally ends up making her dependent on men, at least narratively speaking.

If a review of Furiosa seems composed primarily of criticisms, that doesn’t prevent it from being an enthralling experience at times. It just recognises the tough act to follow that this film had. And its debts to Fury Road are not all fortunate ones, as it means the movie needs to give us answers to things that were tantalizingly unclear from that film. The explanation for how Furiosa lost her arm is satisfying; the reason they blow clouds of red smoke into the air, almost like fireworks, is not so much. But then, there are certain things you have to give us in a prequel, whether we ultimately feel gratified by it or not.


There’s no doubt that any fan of Miller’s apocalyptic vision will be sated with what he’s given us this time, but without the great surprise of how good Fury Road was, we’re sometimes left a bit underwhelmed. Another sign of the difference of those ten years is that Miller has made a movie that’s 28 minutes longer and feels like it has 28 minutes less value. That’s still pretty high value, though.


Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is currently playing in cinemas.

7 / 10