Compelling prequel: ‘Furiosa’ is good, if not great—but Anya Taylor-Joy is fantastic

Director George Miller tends to take some long breaks—or, more accurately, endure interruptions due to studio nonsense—with his Mad Max franchise. He didn’t make any Mad Max movies after Beyond Thunderdome for 30 years until Mad Max: Fury Road triumphantly hit screens in 2015.

Now comes a prequel, a full nine years later. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga tells the backstory of Charlize Theron’s memorable, one-armed character from Fury.

Theron is out due to age. Tom Hardy’s Mad Max is out due to his character not being related to the story and, possibly, Miller needing a long break from Hardy’s allegedly bad set behavior.

In steps Anya Taylor-Joy, who admirably takes over the title role. She doesn’t show up for the film’s first hour, as the Furiosa story goes way back to her origins in the happy Green Place before getting kidnapped by the evil Dr. Dementus (Chris Hemsworth, doing career best work).

The first stage of Furiosa’s life has Alyla Browne, in a very strong performance, occupying the role. One might think that she has an uncanny resemblance to Taylor-Joy; that’s because, thanks to digital wizardry, Browne and Taylor-Joy’s faces are morphed together, leaning more toward Taylor-Joy’s face as Furiosa ages. Eventually, Taylor-Joy takes over entirely.

Taylor-Joy proves she has all of the makings of a superior action hero—and, man, do those eyes just pierce the screen through all the dirt and muck. It’s a shame they didn’t have the wherewithal to go three hours with this film. It would’ve been fun to see Taylor-Joy hand it back off to Theron by the film’s end.

The story covers the period from Furiosa’s childhood right up to the moment when Furiosa is loading Immortan Joe’s brides into a tanker for the big chase that dominates Fury Road. In that timespan, there are many significant and groundbreaking car chases, some of them as impressive as anything in Fury Road. One particular sequence involving paragliders comes to mind.

This film also has the franchise’s best villain in Dementus. Hemsworth fully embraces his chance to do something completely different, and he doesn’t disappoint. The ugly, terrifying and often just-plain-stupid Dementus is a reckless, unpredictable villain who constantly keeps the audience guessing and in a state of unease. He’s also very funny.

Taylor-Joy, from the moment she wowed in The Witch, has continued to be one of the more exciting actresses working today. She always commands the screen, and I can’t think of a better successor for the Furiosa role. Unfortunately, it looks like this will be her sole dance as the shaven-headed one. The box office was not set ablaze over Memorial Day weekend, when Furiosa was unleashed. It basically tied with Garfield. The movie-theater apocalypse may be approaching.

The film has its flaws. There’s a “been there, done that” vibe during some of the film’s more tedious stretches. Some moments rise to the level of Fury Road, but most of the film does not. You have to hand it to Miller for even attempting to match Fury Road, and accomplishing it intermittently.

Furiosa is its own story, and a pretty good one at that. Upon rewatching Fury Road, it becomes clear that Furiosa was the true heart of that film and warranted her own story. Miller has delivered a good, but not great, movie to honor Theron and his creation.

Obviously, the further adventures of Max would be interesting, but they remain in a state of limbo. Will this be the last movie for Miller and his dirty, revving franchise? He’s almost 80! I personally think he has at least one more film in him—provided somebody is willing to pony up the cash.

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