Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga review – renegade warrior Anya Taylor-Joy ignites thunderous action prequel

<span>‘See it on the biggest screen’: Anya Taylor-Joy in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.</span><span>Photograph: Jasin Boland/AP</span>
‘See it on the biggest screen’: Anya Taylor-Joy in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.Photograph: Jasin Boland/AP

“The question is: do you have it in you to make it epic?” Garrulous and utterly deranged despot Dr. Dementus (Chris Hemsworth) is making small talk with Furiosa (Anya Taylor-Joy), who is in no mood for idle chatter. The moment comes towards the end of the movie; by this point in the film, Furiosa is a single-minded, flint-eyed avenger with a customised power tool for an arm. It’s a great line, which Hemsworth delivers with a lip-smacking relish. But given the barnstorming action onslaught that has preceded the exchange, it’s a question that is probably redundant. This is a George Miller picture, after all. Epic is all part of a day’s work. But even by the standards of the previous films in the Mad Max series (Fury Road is the closest in tone, but there are marked differences between the two pictures), this is a huge, marauding monster of a movie. See it on the biggest screen if you can; let the thunderous rumble of customised war rigs shake your seats, and the sandblasted angry ochre colour palette grind itself into your pores.

As the title suggests, we follow the backstory of Furiosa, the character played in Fury Road by Charlize Theron. Here, she’s performed as a child by Alyla Browne and as a young woman by Taylor-Joy. On the physical resemblance alone, it’s superb casting – the two look almost uncannily similar. Beyond that, they are both independently impressive in the role. Browne lets us see the wily calculation beneath the shell of trauma in the little girl ripped from her mother and her community and forced to see things no child should witness. And Taylor-Joy is a pleasure to watch in the action sequences, which take up probably 90% of the film. Her lithe agility and cunning is a refreshing counterpoint to all the lumbering muscle and firepower. She’s tiny in comparison with most of the cast, but give her a grappling hook and a set of wheels and you genuinely believe she could best any of them.

Her rage might be one of the forces that shapes the young Furiosa, but another is kindness

Plaudits to the casting department are due elsewhere too, in particular to whoever decided to unleash Hemsworth on the role of Dementus. It turns out he was born to play a bad guy. Equipped with a fake nose and a dirt-crusted teddy bear, he reprises a touch of the musclebound doofus persona he brought to Thor, but couples it with a dangerous blend of sentimentality and cruelty, with a side order of boiling ambition and insanity. His petulantly muttered “I’m bored”, having just watched a key character get dragged to their death behind a motorcycle across cheese-grater desert gravel, borders on genius.

Dementus is the preening leader of a biker gang who consider themselves a force to be reckoned with in the Wasteland. It’s Dementus’s boys who abduct the young Furiosa; it’s on Dementus’s orders that her mother is tortured and murdered. And it’s Dementus who poses a real and grave threat to the way of life and the “place of abundance” that Furiosa’s people guard from the savage anarchy of the outside world. Furiosa loathes him with a passion that hardens with every passing year. If Fury Road was a chase movie powered by hope for a better future, Furiosa is a revenge flick driven by hate.

Her rage might be one of the forces that shapes the young Furiosa, but another is kindness – a curious, anomalous concept that seems out of place in this world in which most people would flamethrower your face off as soon as look at you. The kindness comes from renowned rig driver Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke), who forms an alliance with Furiosa and mentors her as a driver, fighter and general badass. Of course, evil tends to be more extravagantly memorable, and decency has a way of getting shunted into the background when pretty much everyone else in the cast is trying to out-crazy each other. Still, Burke delivers solid work in a role that can’t help but feel a little underpowered.

It’s a remarkable achievement by Miller – a piece of world-building that is fully realised down to the last diseased pustule on the last burrow-dwelling maggot farmer. And the action sequences are phenomenal. There is a niggling question of whether there is much substance beneath the blitzkrieg assault of the spectacle. Your level of enjoyment will depend on whether or not you need a message with your mayhem. For my part, the mayhem suits me just fine.

  • In UK and Irish cinemas now