Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga emerges as a miracle on the charred landscape of studio filmmaking

4.5 out of 5 stars

George Miller’s epic hope-vs.-hate prequel, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, begins in the “Green Place.” In the middle of the Australian desert exists a land of abundance. Furiosa and another child climb a tree searching for fruit when they spot invaders in their small patch of paradise. Furiosa leaps into action, disabling their vehicles, but is soon kidnapped and will never see her homeland again. Divided into five chapters, Furiosa is an intense coming-of-age road movie that captures much of the ethereal momentum of Fury Road

Except for the disguised Chris Hemsworth as Dementus, much of Furiosa is dialogue-free. A handful of war tactics are discussed; otherwise, words are as sparse as water. The pulsing soundtrack drives much of the action, punctuated by the rumbles, beats and scrapes of various vehicles. Bodies hiss and crack. The clicking of the shaking ball-bearing in the spray-paints that war boys ritualistically use before sacrificing their lives for Immortal Joe — a familiar sound from Miller’s previous film — also returns, evoking deluded propulsion and an intoxicating atmosphere.

Furiosa Chris Hemsworth
Chris Hemsworth in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Much like Fury Road, Furiosa brings to the screen a world brimming with imagination. Whether inspired by religious belief or harrowing backstory, characters are adorned with recycled materials to convey power and position. Soldiers from different clans adopt not only different styles of dress but new styles of battle. No filmmaker is working at Miller’s scale, with such a salient understanding of developing a singular culture. Part of the beauty of all Mad Max films is this appreciation for humanity’s ingenuity and how we seek meaning through adornment. Miller’s world seems to understand the ways in which rituals and myth-making via artistry are fundamental to our survival. Furiosa’s evolution as a character is reflected by her changing accessories and presentation. As much as she’s shaped by circumstance, she’s also formed by her own imagination. 

The construction of persona and cultural realities has an almost Cronenbergian edge, as the line between humanity and machine becomes increasingly eroded. While the world on screen is dystopian, the way the film imagines metal and oil as extensions of the human body creates a layer of hope. The same way micro-plastics invite the next stage of human evolution in Crimes of the Future or the ecstatic car crashes in Crash explode norms, in the Mad Max universe, metal and chrome offer liberation via body modifications. Immortal Joe’s family, crippled by various ailments and kept alive via machines, are one end of the spectrum as a half-sentient people existing only to serve a greater power. Immortal Joe himself (here played by Lachy Hulme) survives thanks to his armoured oxygen tank. Joe becomes a pillar of grotesque beauty amidst the corrupted bodies that surround him. He’s often framed centrally and Hulme’s performance leans into a stoic stillness with a voice of resonant thunder. The camera pores over the details of his costume — where his pink skin is exposed, the bile-coloured ochre highlights of his fake muscular curves and his proud bottle-cap medals conjure a living god. 

Furiosa’s machine-like adornements, which emerge out of necessity, are closer to Immortal Joe’s than the rest of his family. Her disability becomes an opportunity for transformation and achieving a new way of being. Rather than a weakness, her vulnerability allows her to become more fully herself. Furiosa’s mastery over her environment, which happens to be mechanical, allows her to survive but it is only when she fuses with it literally that she can evolve to meet her destiny. 

This liberating understanding of the machine as an extension of the human body becomes a signal of hope rather than hate. It represents humanity’s ability to adapt, but also to imagine new ways of being. While hardly techno-optimism, it strikes a balance between a warning (our obsession with oil will lead to social collapse) and how the reality of our dependence transforms, for better and for worse, our interactions with each other and also our own bodies. 

Furiosa a mad max saga review
Lachy Hulme (centre) in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Furiosa’s kinetic style matches these ideas. The camera movements are expressionistic and drive the film forward. Miller embraces dolly zooms, capturing the tactility of a moving camera as well as the new perspectives offered by the inner mechanics of a camera. It’s a movie with a filmmaking style matching many of its themes, channeling a haptic experience of the world. The movie is textured, not just in the sense of the focused production design, but also the varied environments, from the rippling pools of oil to the rush of sandstorms to the eerie fog-like gradients of the final act. 

This tactility also applies to casting. The actors are universally good, evoking much with very little, but they are also beautiful to watch. Embracing an almost Italian-like tradition of choosing faces over performances, Anya Taylor-Joy and her young counterpart Alyla Browne have a penetrating gaze emphasized through makeup and styling. Another new addition, Tom Burke, has a similarly intense melancholy. The weight of his obligations and the pressures of survival shape him into a man of action and reaction. Each face and each body that makes its way on screen, even for a few seconds, captures the violent weight of their lived experience.

While Furiosa achieves more than one could ever expect from a prequel to one of the greatest blockbusters of all time, it does falter in some minor ways. It’s a bit too long and some of the CGI doesn’t quite land. The succinct plot of Fury Road feels more classical, whereas this one feels more contemporary, a winding story of trauma that nonetheless escapes nearly all pitfalls of the trauma-narrative. After the rather disappointing trailer for Furiosa though, it’s undeniable that it exceeds all expectations. The Mad Max films remain miraculous, a complete anomaly within the stale and unimaginative world of studio filmmaking. ■

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (directed by George Miller)

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, May 24.

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