‘Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’ review: The rocky road to revenge

Though spectacular in a very George Miller way, ‘Furiosa’ is a markedly different beast from ‘Fury Road’

Uday Bhatia
First Published24 May 2024
Anya Taylor-Joy in 'Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga'. Image via AP
Anya Taylor-Joy in ’Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’. Image via AP

What a revelation Furiosa would have been… had Fury Road not existed. George Miller’s 2015 film remade the action genre from the inside out, taking it back to its basics, then supercharging it. Furiosa has its share of bone-rattling, cardiac-inducing wonders, but these wonders are largely familiar, burned into our brains through re-watchings of Fury Road. It might give some wry satisfaction to all those directors who had their films compared to Fury Road to see that Miller himself isn’t exempt from the standards he set nine years ago.

Not that Miller is attempting a retread of Fury Road. If anything, he seems eager to drive a stake through the heart of that film’s clear-cut chase framework, built around Furiosa freeing Immortan Joe’s slave wives. Furiosa takes place in the same post-apocalyptic wasteland, but its emotional landscape is very different. It’s fractured and strained where Fury Road barrelled ferociously in one direction. It’s far more pessimistic, even nihilistic, its characters driven by power-lust and revenge. 

We first meet Furiosa as a young Vuvalini girl (played by Alyla Browne) in the Green Place. She’s discovered and kidnapped by roaming bikers, who take her to the warlord Dementus (Chris Hemsworth with a flowing beard, doing an unhinged version of his native Aussie accent). Her mother (Charlee Fraser) successfully breaks her out, but is eventually captured and killed in front of her daughter. For all his gleeful cruelty, Dementus can’t seem to dispose of the girl. She’s taken along when his gang makes their first challenge to the Citadel, which is run, as in Fury Road, by the psychotic Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme). 

There's a revealing encounter when Dementus returns to the Citadel to parley with its leaders after he takes over Gastown by force. Joe, ever the pervert, sees Furiosa and demands she stays as his wife. Instead of using her as a bargaining chip, Dementus does everything he can to prevent her from being sold in slavery, including pretending she’s his daughter. It’s an intriguing scene, hinting at a more human Dementus (possibly with another name) before he turned into a sadistic outlaw. Nevertheless, Furiosa stays behind, welcomed by a group of wives just like the ones she’d later spirit out in Fury Road.

There’s another escape—though not away from the Citadel but further into its depths; she emerges a near-mute with a shaven head whose talent with machines keeps her employed and on the fringes of the Citadel's constant battles with Dementus. This, finally, is the Furiosa we’re familiar with, and it isn’t long before she’s being played by Anya Taylor-Joy. It’s a gamble to have your headliner appear midway into your film—especially when it's immediately followed by a change of gears.

The long set piece that starts soon after Taylor-Joy's entry is the equal of anything in Fury Road, a marvel of stunt work and planning and editing and sheer how-did-they-do-that. As the rugged Pratorian Jack (an excellent Tom Burke) drives and War Boys fight off marauding bikers, Furiosa clambers around and under the rig, making repairs. Tom Holkenborg’s score roars properly for the first time. Miller’s back in the desert directing a mad chase, and it’s beautiful. “Can I do the bommyknocker?” a young War Boy asks some way in. We don’t know what that is, but yes please.

With Furiosa, it feels like Miller is consciously ‘world-building’: we spend time in the Citadel, the Bullet Farm and Gastown, all hellish factory-scapes (strangely, the Green Place, the one habitat that’s entirely different in look and philosophy, is only shown in passing). We also get hints at the larger mythos of the Wasteland, mutterings about war, inequality and nuclear holocaust. It’s nothing that hasn’t been hinted at in the earlier films, though. Miller’s writing (Nico Lathouris collaborates) is at its most memorable when characters are saying ‘bommyknocker’ and ‘canine kebab’. The heavy stuff doesn’t sit as well because the metaphors are unremarkable (and less focused than Fury Road, where the Citadel denying the workers water had a whiff of near-future crisis).

Dementus is a wonderfully loquacious character, given to saying things like “I hold them profoundly in contempt” and describing his unseen pursuer as “Someone competent and excessively resentful”. Hemsworth is a good enough actor to make Dementus funny and eccentric; it is, however, a little beyond his capabilities to make him a truly memorable antagonist (think of how menacing Daniel Day-Lewis was while playing as broad and talking as floridly in Gangs of New York). Taylor-Joy doesn’t yet have Theron’s action star prowess, but her unblinking intensity makes her entirely believable as a younger version of the legendary Furiosa. Even after hearing the line in the trailer, I wasn’t prepared for the thrill that surged when she says to Dementus, once through gritted teeth, then in a magnificent growl, “My childhood… my mother… I want them back. I WANT THEM BACK.” 

Mad Max films might be shiny and chrome now, but they’re still exploitation films at heart (character names includes Rictus Erectus, Scabrous Scrotus and Piss Boy). Revenge is a big driver of the genre, and we see its hold on Furiosa, burning to avenge the death of her mother, on Dementus, holding on (literally, in the form of a teddy bear) to the memory of a family snatched from him, and on Jack, whose sense of loss moves him to take Furiosa under his wing. There's no sense of release at the end of the film, Furiosa’s revenge fracturing into open-ended myth. Scenes from Fury Road playing over the end credits remind us that she eventually found her release in liberating others. But the knot in my stomach remained. I think Miller intended it to be this way, a film of false starts, thwarted escapes and blasted dreams. I’d like to see Furiosa again, but before that I have to revisit Fury Road to remind myself why all the suffering was worth it. 

Also read: Ruskin Bond: The grand old man of Indian letters

 

 

 

 

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