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Monday, June 24, 2024

‘Furiosa’ is a tale for the mad, and still mediocre

While the latest entry in the “Mad Max” franchise, ”Furiosa,” is charming and courageous, it failed to rise above mediocrity.

Blasting into cinemas this year is “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga,” the most inventive franchise film many audiences will see. 

It is also one that — to quote character Immortan Joe and his War Boys — is “most mediocre.”

The film is a prequel to director George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road.” It tells the story of Furiosa (Anya Taylor-Joy), a fearsome warrior of the wasteland, who grows from a frightened young girl abducted from her home to an imperator of warlord Immortan Joe, seeking revenge on the warlord Dementus (Chris Hemsworth) for killing her mother. 

Spoilers ahead for “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.”

Taylor-Joy is easily the film’s biggest strength, and her innate aptitude for action roles shines through in every scene she’s in. Her commanding screen presence sells her ability to be a credible threat in the wasteland, cementing this role as perfectly suited for her. 

The action scene in Bullet Farm and her climactic showdown with Dementus serve as the highlights of the film and are thoroughly captivating because Taylor-Joy knows exactly what she is doing.

The film’s biggest flaw is that it is simply too bombastic for its own good.

Miller made the first “Mad Max” in 1979 as his debut feature for roughly $252,000, forcing him to focus on character development and be sparing with the vehicular action sequences that would define the franchise in later installments, which all had to be done practically. 

By contrast, “Furiosa” was produced for up to $168 million and therefore has the license to use shoddy CGI effects to an extent that they turn nearly every action scene into a cluttered eyesore, which is unfortunate when these scenes form the crux of the story.

“Fury Road” centered around one car chase, turning the entire film into a long action sequence. The majority of the effects in “Fury Road” were done practically, adding a real sense of danger to the stunts and keeping the immersion flowing. The action scenes in “Furiosa” remind you that you are watching a live-action cartoon, which is fitting as the script was originally written to be an anime in its early stages.

With “Furiosa,” the series has become divorced from its grindhouse roots to become a sweeping epic that doesn’t say anything in particular about people despite the philosophizing of Chris Hemsworth’s Dementus. This doesn’t fully work because the Mad Max films are inherently not meant to be sweeping epics.

Running at two-and-a-half-hours and split into five chapters, the film has an episodic structure reminiscent of Sergio Leone westerns like “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” or “Once Upon a Time in the West.” 

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This pacing makes the film engaging enough to be exciting, yet not enough to forget this is still a movie about giant cars driving to places with names like Gastown and Bullet Farm, keeping it from the heights it reaches for due to its absurdity.

“Furiosa” lacks crucial scenes of character development by running rampant with lavish action scenes that do not allow the film to have more of an impact. 

In the original “Mad Max”, we as an audience feel the emotional weight of Max’s family being killed because it happens towards the end of the film. We had scenes establishing the bond between them and Max, making his revenge satisfying to watch. In “Furiosa,” the murder of her mother and later her comrade, Praetorian Jack, do not have genuine emotional effect because we are not given enough quiet time to be invested in the characters.

Despite these flaws, it is commendable that after 45 years Miller was able to take a low-budget exploitation film made with relative unknowns that capitalized on the then-popular motorcycle movie trend and turn it into an Oscar-winning mega franchise whose influence is felt over all facets of pop culture, all while still maintaining control over his creations.

Miller also continues the feminist streak he established in “Fury Road” to tell a story about a strong, courageous woman ripped from her matriarchal homeland and motivated by the loss of a strong female bond learning to survive in and overcome the challenges of a man’s world. 

For a movie in a genre so dominated by male stories, it is very refreshing to see this, and it plays as one of its strengths.

Although the film as a whole does not rise above mediocre, it is inspiring to see an auteur be allowed, in a sea of made-by-committee franchise films, to go into the outback and make his crazy, idiosyncratic stories about post-apocalyptic bikers and vengeance-fueled warriors trying to survive in a world that’s gone positively mad.

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