Furiosa Review: Finally, a Prequel That’s Actually Essential

The post Furiosa Review: Finally, a Prequel That’s Actually Essential appeared first on Consequence.

The Pitch: Once upon a time, there was a guy named Max who was pretty mad (maybe because he lives in an apocalyptic wasteland), who got caught up in a desperate quest to help five young women escape the cruel Immortan Joe. The mastermind behind that escape was a badass named Furiosa (Anya Taylor-Joy) — but was she always a badass? Thanks to Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, the answer can be confirmed: Absolutely yes.

However, being a badass didn’t make her path through life any easier. As a child, Furiosa quickly learns to survive the most wild elements of the Wasteland, including the demented Dementus (Chris Hemsworth), a gang leader who challenges the ruling overlords for a shot at real power. As an adult, Furiosa realizes that there’s something maybe better than surviving: Escape to the green place. All she needs is a plan — and some hope.

Hope Is a Mistake: The obsession Hollywood has these days for prequels has become a little exhausting in recent years. But the important thing to keep in mind, going into Furiosa, is that the story it tells was dreamed up at the same time writer/director George Miller and co-writer Nick Lathouris were concocting 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road.

This isn’t an example of a bunch of writers pitching for an open writing assignment for how Furiosa lost her arm — Miller told journalists, prior to a press screening, that because Fury Road takes place over such a short amount of time, “in order to tell it cohesively, we had to know everything that happened in the time before. So we wrote the story of Furiosa from the time she was taken as a child, as she refers to in Fury Road, until she becomes the Imperator Furiosa. And this ended up as a full screenplay with concept art and so on — the actors, the designers and all the crew got the screenplay of [Furiosa] before we shot [Fury Road]. It was the only way we could have done Fury Road, otherwise it wouldn’t have been cohesive.”

In many ways, Furiosa is not immune to the tropes inherent to the prequel — you do find out how she lost her arm, for one thing, and the film does eventually collide with the events of Fury Road. Yet because its development was simultaneous with the first film, it feels much more connected to it, perhaps even essential. And in the rough-and-tumble desert that is film in the year 2024, a prequel that doesn’t feel like a blatant effort to exploit corporate IP is truly special.

I Live, I Die, I Live Again: In a recent interview, Miller confirmed that the character of Furiosa has just 30 lines of dialogue, and in the context of the film, that spare approach works so well for two reasons: Miller’s such a masterful visual storyteller, you don’t really need too much, and also the two actresses playing Furiosa at various ages are incredibly expressive performers, both saying an awful lot with just a look.

Furiosa Review Anya Taylor-Joy
Furiosa Review Anya Taylor-Joy

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (Warner Bros.)

Both the younger Alyla Browne and Anya Taylor-Joy, as her final form, deliver everything you want from the character, forging the trauma from a lifetime of struggle and trials into pure fire. Comparing her performance to Charlize Theron’s is tough because Theron’s Furiosa is someone we only get to know over a few days, in a very focused narrative. Here, Taylor-Joy gets much more material to explore what it means not just to stay alive, but live in this world; rage and revenge are only the beginning, and the younger actor brings such nuance to it.

Taylor-Joy also has impressive, unspoken chemistry with Tom Burke’s Praetorian Jack, a mentor figure with whom she develops a real connection. (At one point, early in their friendship, he offers to teach her about “road war,” and I almost leapt out of my seat to cheer.)

Meanwhile, Chris Hemsworth’s original star-making turn in Thor was a study in going big without totally losing the character, but it’s still exciting to find out that this kind of performance has always been within him, with glimpses at his dark side coming in projects like Bad Times at the El Royale and Spiderhead. He’s never had a villain showcase quite like this before, and what’s so striking about it is how merciless it is; even with the occasional dropped hint at his tragic backstory, there’s never a question of redemption for Dementus. It’s genuinely fearless work, a bit reminiscent of Chris Evans getting to explore his evil side in The Russo Brothers’ The Gray Man (except this movie is actually good).

Furiosa Review Chris Hemsworth
Furiosa Review Chris Hemsworth

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (Warner Bros.)

Ride Eternal, Shiny and Chrome: Furiosa also makes use of its decades-spanning timeline to expand the world-building of this particular corner of the post-apocalypse; while Fury Road acquainted us with Immortan Joe’s Citadel, more time is spent at the discussed strongholds known as the Bullet Farm and Gas Town, and we even get to spend a little more time in Immortan Joe’s den of “wives.”

All of it is in service to Furiosa’s journey, but the details accumulate for such a rich experience, one where you can tell how much attention to detail was involved. From the biggest swings (like Dementus’s three-motorcycle chariot) to quieter choices (like a brilliant use of time-lapse photography to capture the passing of years), there’s masterful filmmaking on display. Just the way cinematographer Simon Duggan’s roving camera captures hoards of cars and bikes swooping up and down the dunes… Poetry.

The Verdict: Furiosa doesn’t sync up perfectly with Fury Road — the biggest issue being that you have to embrace Taylor-Joy as a full-on recasting of Furiosa (Theron does not appear in this film). Yet the only real issue with the connection between these two films it that Furiosa is such a thrilling ride, packed with set pieces that are a masterclass in staging action, that it’s a little sad when the plot veers towards the events of the previous movie — because we know that’s where the ride ends.

The strengths of Furiosa do not eclipse Fury Road, to be clear, nor does the latter film shine as far superior. Instead, they really are two pieces of the same puzzle, different in their scope but connected not just by characters, but by ethos and aesthetic. It’s the ultimate double-feature, and afterwards, you’re gonna want to drive fast.

Where to Watch: Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga roars into theaters on Friday, May 24th.


Furiosa Review: Finally, a Prequel That’s Actually Essential
Liz Shannon Miller

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