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‘Furiosa’ is Ambitious, Admirable, but it’s No ‘Fury Road’

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While watching Furiosa; A Mad Max Saga, just remember this is from the same director who made Happy Feet. It’s a fascinating memory to reflect upon that the filmmaker who brought us singing and dancing penguins is also responsible for the nightmarish, brutal landscape surrounding Mad Max. And well, there’s nothing “Happy” about George Miller’s return to the Wasteland of absolute anarchy. 

The last sequel, Mad Max: Fury Road, was a technical marvel involving a never-ending car chase through the Wasteland. Despite the bleak backdrop, the film delivered intense thrills and edge-of-your-seat action sequences. Furiosa has some similar moments, but George Miller is not repeating himself with this sequel. It’s surprisingly dark and mean-spirited. One can’t help but wonder, “Is George Miller okay?”

What is Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga about?

Directed and written by George Miller and co-written by Nick Lathouris, the sequel centers on Furiosa (Anya Taylor-Joy) as she navigates the harsh Wasteland from a kidnapped child to a fully formed adult with a thirst for revenge. When we first see Furiosa, she’s quite young. She and a friend live without hardship in a location everyone calls “The Green Place.”

The situation worsens drastically when Furiosa spots a raider in the crops. She whistles the danger signal, feeling threatened. Despite her efforts, she is kidnapped and taken to a deranged individual named Dr. Dementus (Chris Hemsworth). Attempts to rescue Furiosa from this unhinged bearded monster only leads to more tragedy.

Dementus and his gang of bikers make Furiosa’s childhood a living hell. That is until Dementus crosses paths with the Citadel and Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme). The oddly masked Immortan Joe takes a liking to Furiosa. Despite Joe’s questionable interest, it offers a possible path to survival and vengeance against her assailant.

Anya Taylor-Joy as Furiosa
Anya Taylor-Joy as Furiosa (Warner Bros)

Furiosa as the meanest Mad Max sequel in decades

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is unflinching in its approach to tragic moments. Critics often complain that movies lack teeth these days. This statement was heavily aimed at Scream 6 last year when a character seemingly survived a flurry of stabbings. 

Furiosa has zero issues showing off her fangs, including the molars. There is a sequence in Furiosa that brings back the childhood memory of seeing Murphy from Robocop being shot to death—the type of scene that communicates the absolute worst parts of humanity. Most of it stems from the sadistic performance of Dr. Dementus, who Chris Hemsworth wonderfully executed. 

Hemsworth is a revelation in Furiosa. The character seems meticulously designed for the viewer to hate him, down to the make-up prosthetics. The execution gives a sense that someone said: What if Chris Hemsworth but instead Armie Hammer with an exaggerated beard? If the Armie Hammer appearance was intentional, it was an inspired choice for audience disapproval.

Then there is Dementus as a villain. He is the definition of ‘Misery loves company.’ Dementus used to have a family he loved, and because the Wasteland took his whole world, Dementus made it his goal to do the same to everyone else, no matter if they deserved it or not. He exhibits softness at first glance, but his actions are excessively cruel. Chris Hemsworth does exceptional here, and his presence makes the experience a hard pill to swallow at times.

Despite the mean-spirited nature of the story, it’s surprisingly subtle in these moments. As the audience, we don’t witness the horrific acts unfold, but the restraint allows us to fill in the blanks mentally. This withholding can sometimes make the brutality more impactful and unsettling.

Chris Hemsworth as Dementus in Furiosa
Chris Hemsworth as Dementus in Furiosa (Warner Bros)

Mad Max, by way of Star Wars

Mad Max: Fury Road offered an appetizer to this film, giving us the War Boys, heavy metal threats with flamethrowers for guitars, and more. But Fury Road mostly kept the story to the chase, offering nuggets of world-building throughout.

Of all the Mad Max films in the franchise, Furiosa is the first to feel expansive. This is not to suggest Miller hasn’t fleshed out this world. The Wasteland has always felt alive with so many details. In Furiosa, we get to explore more than typically allowed. There are glimpses of cultures, wanderers, and threats who fight while air gliding. The other-worldly nature makes the environment feel alien, much like Tatooine. 

At the same time, similar to a modern Star Wars movie, some sequences feel less tangible than Fury Road. There are moments where the setting is noticeably green screen sound stages. However, the visual effects team did an excellent job creating the artificial landscape at various stages of the film. 

Furiosa has a new cinematographer for this sequel. Mad Max: Fury Road was filmed by John Seale, known for his work on The English PatientDead Poets Society, and The Talented Mr. Ripley. On the other hand, Furiosa was shot by Simon Duggan, who is known for his work on I, RobotWarcraft, and Underworld. This change in cinematography is not to imply that cinematography is terrible, but it does result in a noticeable difference in filming style.

Furiosa earns respect, but it’s not Fury Road

The performances are outstanding, especially Hemsworth as Dementus. Anya Taylor-Joy continues to be incredible as a performer. What’s fascinating is that Furiosa has the Tom Hardy persona in this film instead of vice versa. Throughout most of the film, she says almost no dialogue, yet there isn’t a single frame where we don’t understand what Furiosa is feeling.

But here is the issue of subjectivity. Having been through a pandemic, a decade with civil unrest flickering off and on like a light switch, and two or more election cycles that can only be described as “Oh please no, not this again,” this reviewer’s tolerance for watching a chaotic and unpredictable world has significantly decreased. 

The sequel has all the insane ambition of a George Miller action movie, especially in terms of nurturing lore and story above mindless action. Even so, after rewatching Fury Road, the experience of Furiosa felt like a step-down. And while Fury Road possesses mean-spirited elements, it’s easier to wash down considering the impressive, elaborate stunts on full display. Furiosa effortlessly earns the respect, but Fury Road owns the keys to Valhalla.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is now playing in theaters! Have you seen it yet? What did you think of it? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord.

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John Dotson

Born and raised in Texas, John Dotson has been a film pundit for over 10 years, writing reviews and entertainment coverage at various online outlets. His favorite thing in the world is discussing movies with others who also love the art form.

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