Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024) Review – A Sprawling, Visually Spectacular Post-Apocalyptic Odyssey

How do you top Mad Max: Fury Road, which is regarded as one of the best action movies in recent years? George Miller could have retained the same “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” formula and upped the ante with more of everything from the insane stuntwork to the spectacular chases.

But he’s not here to repeat himself by giving us a deja vu experience as he turns his prequel into a post-apocalyptic epic western, marking his first time to do so in the Mad Max franchise. It was an ambitious and of course, risky undertaking to expand a story that doesn’t take place within days (Mad Max: Fury Road was set over 3 days) but rather spans across 15 years. In other words, don’t expect Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga to be jam-packed with lots of action like its 2015 predecessor.

The name Furiosa, of course, was previously played by Charlize Theron. She was one of the best things that happened in Mad Max: Fury Road, going as far as stealing the show even from the main star, Tom Hardy who played Max. There was a time when Miller did consider Theron to return for the prequel using de-ageing technology but after observing the likes of Gemini Man and The Irishman, he decided it wasn’t convincing enough and recast her role with someone younger. That someone in question is Anya Taylor-Joy, one of the best young actresses working today and she turns out to be a good pick as Furiosa.

Reuniting with his Mad Max Fury Road co-writer Nick Lathouris, the prequel begins from Furiosa’s childhood era (played by Alyla Browne) as we first learn how she was kidnapped from the peaceful eden called The Green Place by a gang of motorcycle savages to please their crazed warlord Dementus (Chris Hemsworth). Furiosa’s mother, Mary Jabasa (Charlee Fraser) attempts to rescue her, only to end up in a tragedy.

The story also focuses on the younger Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme), who ruled the Citadel, the craggy rock stronghold filled with fresh water resources that Dementus wants to get ahold of the place. The little Furiosa soon grows up into a young adult (now played by Anya Taylor-Joy), sporting long hair and back when she still has both of her arms. And yes, the prequel would address how she lost one of her arms in the first place.

The last time Miller focused more on telling a story than streamlining his Mad Max movie into a lean, vehicular action-packed mayhem resulted in an uneven and misguided Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Going way back 45 years ago, the first Mad Max and despite impressively staged vehicular stunts on a shoestring budget and Mel Gibson’s breakthrough performance, the otherwise 1979 groundbreaking original suffered from erratic and frankly, tedious storytelling.

Chris Hemsworth in "Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga" (2024)

Part of me worries that history might repeat itself in the longer-than-usual 148-minute Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga. Told in five chapters, the movie gets off to a promising start involving Mary’s attempt to rescue her kidnapped child, Furiosa in a bike chase sequence. Charlee Fraser, who plays Mary, may have appeared in a small role but it’s pivotal enough to make her a standout during the earlier sequence. She isn’t a typical, worried mother but rather a highly skilled sharpshooter and knows well how to improvise through a series of swift decisions.

Alyla Browne, who appears as the younger Furiosa, barely speaks a word throughout her character arc. And it wasn’t just a while because her screen time dominates around an hour or so and while it may seem like a risky move, Browne does a good job playing a predominantly non-verbal character relying heavily on facial expressions and body movements.

The first act also introduces Dementus played by Chris Hemsworth and as much as I hope he would surprise me with a better-than-expected performance, that’s barely the case here. Beyond Hemsworth’s distinctly (fake) crooked nose, embracing his Australian accent and the way he arrogantly rides like Ben Hur on chariot-style motorcycles instead of horses, I can’t help but see him like he’s trying too hard to play a gleefully over-the-top antagonist. And yet, he can’t seem to shake off the shadows of his iconic Thor character, and more so with the familiar long hair that framed his look. He’s the weakest link in this movie, particularly for a character responsible for setting the course for Furiosa’s decades-long quest for vengeance.

When the movie finally shifted to Anya Taylor-Joy’s Furiosa, she convinced me as an action heroine from the first time she rides underneath the War Rig truck. This also leads to one of the best action set pieces in the Mad Max franchise — an elaborate chase with enemies coming from every direction. Backed by Tom Holkenborg’s pulsating score with Miller’s dynamic, yet amazingly fluid camerawork effectively focused on the visceral thrills of the chase with adversaries in the buggies and motorcycles and even featured the ones strapped with paramotor-assisted flying chutes. The practical stunts are as spectacular as always, even though obvious shades of CGI can be seen this time around. But at least not as bad as the trailers led you to think so in the first place.

The aforementioned chase also presents a new character, Immortan Joe’s reliable War Rig driver nicknamed “Praetorian” Jack. Tom Burke pulls off the stoic character well and I enjoy the platonic chemistry between him and Anya Taylor-Joy’s Furiosa. They are easily among the best parts of the movie. As for the rest of the supporting actors, Lachy Hulme slips in effortlessly as the younger Immortan Joe, a role previously played by the late Hugh Keays-Byrne, who died in 2020.

The third act, which culminates in a showdown between Furiosa and Dementus is sadly underwhelming. I was hoping it would go out with a bang, not a whimper, making me wonder for all the deliberate build-up and some incredible action set pieces in between, is this the best that Miller and his co-writer Nick Lathouris can come up with?

Likewise, Miller doesn’t disappoint on the technical side and apart from the action scenes, the movie benefits from Simon Duggan’s stunning cinematography and impeccable sound design. So, does Max himself show up in this prequel? Well, I’ll leave it up to you to find out.