Review: Furiosa Accomplishes a Rare Feat, Delivering an Action-Packed Epic and Compelling Origin Story

I’m often skeptical of prequels that reveal what is essentially the origin story of a major character. Horror franchises attempt this a lot, and it almost never works. Knowing where a character came from rarely makes that character any more interesting, especially if audiences are already fully invested in said character. Writer/director George Miller’s latest entry in the Mad Max franchise, Furiosa, is an exception to that rule, primarily because there is a significant time jump between Mad Max: Fury Road and the previous Mad Max films, making it feel like we’d missed something in between. In some ways, Furiosa is all the more intriguing because it fills in some necessary gaps, not just in the title character’s story, but in the overall mythology of the Wasteland (aka the Australian desert).

For those claiming that Furiosa is completely different than Fury Road in terms of its intentions and execution, that’s certifiably insane. There are still legendary car chases, stunts and other visual effects that only serve to further solidify Miller as the greatest action film director living today. What is different is the focus of Furiosa, which is squarely set on explaining the way the environmentally scorched earth operates. We’ve gotten tastes of this in the other Mad Max movies, but Furiosa lays it all out plainly and takes us right up until the point where Fury Road begins. 

Power is all that matters in this world, and as a result, it has been reduced to three means of production: gasoline (a refinery society called Gastown), weapons (the Bullet Farm), and food and water (the Citadel, run by a younger Immortan Joe (this time played by Lachy Hulme) and his two equally repulsive sons, Rictus Erecus (Nathan Jones) and Scrotus (Josh Helman). The setting for the Citadel is essentially the same that we saw in Fury Road, a place where water is king and Joe’s army of War Boys is happy to fight and die in his honor. But now a couple decades earlier, we see that Joe still has to bargain and barter with these other two establishments to stay in power.

For those hoping to fully explore Furiosa’s life in her childhood home, the Green Place of Many Mothers (one of the few locations in the Wasteland still capable of growing plant life), you’ll be sorely disappointed. Instead, after just a couple minutes seeing her (played as a young girl by the phenomenal Alyla Browne) in the Green Place, she’s snatched by a couple of bikers serving the wandering biker horde led by the warlord Dementus—maybe the role Chris Hemsworth was born to play. Across various Thor/Avengers films for the past 13 years, Hemsworth has been the prototypical hero in terms of looks and attitude, but as Dementus, the chains of being a role model are broken, and Miller is able to use the baggage Hemsworth has carried with him for so long to his advantage, subverting expectations at every turn. Dementus is a piece of shit of the highest order, and he has no qualms about killing Furiosa’s mother in front of her in the worst possible way and then holding the girl captive as something of a prize or possession to be traded as collateral.

So when the bikers come across the Citadel for the first time, Immortan Joe's interest in Furiosa makes more sense because we’re aware of his collection of “wives” that he’s using to produce additional offspring. (One particularly gruesome sequence involving the birth of one of Joe’s children shows us why making healthy babies is such a chore in the Wasteland.) Still, as a child, Furiosa bides her time, makes herself indispensable to Joe, and eventually blends into the masses working for Joe by disguising herself as a boy. Using familiar de-aging technology, Miller does something I’ve never seen done before with two actors playing the same character (Anya Taylor-Joy plays the slightly older Furiosa): he blends and toggles the faces of Taylor-Joy and Browne depending on how old she’s meant to be, and there are scenes in which I wasn’t quite sure who was playing the role because both of their faces seem to be equally represented in the character. I didn’t know this going into the movie, but the result is impressive, seamless, and will probably by used by many other productions moving forward, if to lesser impact.

After leaving Furiosa at the Citadel, Dementus ends up taking over Gastown, making him a player in this shaky economy through trading gasoline for bullets and sustenance. But he makes bad deals and the production levels of gasoline he’s required to make aren’t sustainable, leaving his people overworked and hungry—the perfect combination for revolution. Meanwhile, an older Furiosa is plotting her revenge on the man who killed her mother, which all seems tied to a couple of things introduced at the Citadel: the recently manufactured War Rig, which we see her driving on gasoline runs in Fury Road; and its driver, Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke), who seems genuinely interested in partnering with Furiosa and one of the only men in this film she can trust. There is a lot about Jack that is like Max, beginning with his good looks (there’s not a lot of competition in the Wasteland in the looks department), and there’s even a spark of attraction between the two. But Miller has never been especially interested in romance in his Mad Max films, primarily because death is so prevalent that falling in love seems like a dangerous idea. Still, the partnership works, until everybody else starts changing the rules of bartering.

Certain things you expect to find out are worked into the screenplay (from Miller and Nick Lathouris), including the fate of Furiosa’s left arm, how she ended up driving for Immortan Joe, and the beginnings of her quest to return home to the Green Place. While those moments are certainly exciting for those looking for connections to Fury Road, the most interesting parts of Furiosa are found in its dedication to telling a new story of a young woman desperate to simply survive both incredible odds and two shockingly cruel tyrants in order to put herself in a position of power that no one but her is aware of until it's too late to wrest it back.

It’s a full hour into the two-and-a-half-hour film that Taylor-Joy fully enters the picture, but nothing about Furiosa feels like we get short-changed because of that. Learning the inner workings of this fluctuating society is fascinating, and there’s still plenty of time for explosions, people getting squished by big truck tires, and dusty car chases that find new ways to up the stakes (I was especially taken with the para-sailing warriors who look like flying squids). Nothing about this film disappoints, and it’s especially impressive how a full-tilt action movie also manages to be the most emotionally driven entry in this series. The list of accomplishments goes on an on, but the fact is, Furiosa works on multiple levels as both an origin story prequel and a standalone epic.

The film is now playing in theaters.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.