We Are the Already Dead: Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024) - Reviewed


Images courtesy of Warner Brothers

“Bring me your leaders and throw them down! You will rule with me in the splendor of a new wasteland!"

George Miller's previous entry into the franchise, Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), was a surprise hit that seemed to materialize out of nowhere and was dropped like a nuke into the cinema world. There was a thirty-year gap between Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) and Fury Road, but Miller was still at the top of his game and released one of the decade's most action-packed and dynamic films. Nine years later, he has returned to The Wasteland for a prequel film featuring Furisoa, the breakout character from Fury Road. This iteration, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024), stands out from its predecessors as it is lighter on the action but takes a deeper look into the lore and inner workings of the irradiated desert of post-apocalyptic Australia. One of Miller's strengths as a director is his range and ability to work in vastly different genres, and he isn't afraid to change things up and experiment.

Furiosa begins in The Green Place of Many Mothers, an abundant oasis ruled over by a group of strong and intelligent women. There are shades of The Garden of Eden, as well as a reference to the fruit from the "Tree of Knowledge" as young Furiosa (played by Alyla Browne as a child and Anya Taylor-Joy as an adult) is shown grabbing a juicy peach from its branches. Her snack is interrupted by raiders who have appeared in a nearby area, and though Furiosa attempts to hinder their bikes, she is discovered and subsequently kidnapped. The raiders belong to a gang known as The Biker Hoard and are ruled over by a megalomaniac called Dementus (Chris Hemsworth), who is obsessed with finding the whereabouts of the Green Place. Throughout the film, which covers about twenty years, the story follows Furiosa as she tries to survive in the various encampments and skirmishes between the gangs.

The Wasteland is a brutal environment with low resources, reducing humanity to a simple equation: the strong dominate the weak. Each area is defined by what it can provide: Gas Town is a giant oil refinery that supplies fuel, The Citadel, lorded over by Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme), houses the only water purifier, but they need the fuel from Gas Town to power it, and ammunition is provided by The Bullet Farm. These strongholds have an uneasy alliance, and men fight each other for control over what is essentially scraps. While Furiosa doesn't delve as much into gender politics as Fury Road, it does explore the idea of toxic masculinity and the way that it can destroy society if left unchecked. It isn't an accident that women run the only viable and peaceful area left in The Wasteland and that in the rest of the outback, women are used as property and bargaining chips.

Dementus is an upstart lord with delusions of grandeur who is equally frightened of death and of being perceived as weak. The visual storytelling with his distinctive cloak is intriguing: at first, it's pure white, mirroring his unsullied dedication to being a leader, then it's stained red, symbolizing him embracing bloodlust and conflict, and finally, it starts turning black as he is consumed by madness and despair. The teddy bear he displays prominently on his belt represents the "softness" he isn't allowed to have anymore because you cannot be weak and survive in the Wasteland. Dementus has a volatile relationship with Furiosa as he fancies himself to be a father figure to her and is consumed with the idea of keeping her "pure," but he accomplishes this by imprisoning her and keeping her around as a display piece. Hemsworth is hamming it up in this role, full of bravado and swagger, then subsequently transitioning into a more vulnerable and manic performance, and he steals every scene he is in.

Furiosa is trapped between a rock and a hard place as the vast majority of The Wasteland is a scorched hellscape that is only interested in either killing or exploiting her. Compared to the colorful cast of miscreants, she can come off as one note, but she is more driven with a single purpose: revenge. She has to fight tooth and nail to survive, living most of her life in disguise until she can prove her worth as a warrior, when all she really wants to do is return to her idyllic youth and tend a garden. All of her hopes and dreams are represented by a peach pit that she keeps with her at all times, a seed that she holds within herself, a reminder that at one time, she could cultivate life instead of only taking it away from others. Anya Taylor-Joy infuses Furiosa with a wide-eyed intensity and drive that complements and supports Charlize Theron's version in Fury Road.

Aesthetically, Furiosa is channeling the surreal acid western style of Richard Stanley's Hardware (1990) with super saturated color-grading and stark vistas. It is immediately apparent that this film utilizes more noticeable green screen work, though Miller's eye for creative framing and snappy editing is still in full effect. Stylization goes a long way, and the intricate costumes and cobbled-together doom cars create a cohesive atmosphere even when the CGI is less than believable. Though there are far fewer action scenes, they are well-filmed and frenetic, and the action is bookended by more lyrical and poetic sequences that reinforce the darker and more philosophical mood that Miller is going for. Composer Tom Holkenborg AKA Junkie XL, returned to contribute to the score, and it feels a tad underwhelming compared to his bombastic score for Fury Road, but that may be because he had to work around the more low-key vibe. Every once in a while, he returns to the iconic leitmotif from the previous film, which ramps up the action segments. 

It is a disservice to both films to compare Furiosa to Fury Road, as these works should be treated as companion pieces rather than retreads. Furiosa seamlessly transitions into Fury Road, and unlike some recent lazy cash-ins, it purposefully and thoughtfully incorporates additional lore and background to enrich the story. 

--Michelle Kisner