Home Leisure & Sports Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (***1/2)

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (***1/2)

Anya Taylor-Joy, Tom Burke, and Chris Hemsworth in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.

Wow. It’s a rebirth. There’s a new badass. It’s a phoenix.

In 1979, Australian director George Miller introduced the post-apocalyptic and eerily dystopian action film Mad Max to audiences around the world. Forty-five years later he’s resurrecting the saga and has created a new storyline that’s as worthy as all the others in: Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) and Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). Fans of this timeless, enduring allegory will wonder if this latest epic could be as good as the others. Visually and auditorily, yes; narratively, it’s close.

Miller wisely reassembles the tech team that won Oscars for their work on Mad Max: Fury Road: Margaret Sixel (editor), Jenny Beavan (costume designer), Colin Gibson (production designer), Lesley Vanderwalt (makeup and hairstyling) and Ben Osmo (sound editor). The rest of the stellar creative team is equally up to the challenge: composer Tom Holkenborg, cinematographer Simon Duggan (The Great Gatsby), supervising sound editor Robert Mackenzie, co-editor Eliot Knapman, visual effects supervisor Andrew Jackson and supervising colorist Eric Whipp.

The debt Miller and the audience owe to the sound and visual crews is evident in every frame, start to finish with the mesmerizing beige, mushroom, copper, brown color palette—barren landscapes for as far as the eye can see. There are steel gray and silver vehicles, costumes and sets that look like they were stolen from the Metropolitan Opera House (that’s if The Met ever staged a post-civ production). The lighting, in interiors and on exteriors is eerie, haunting or exquisite. The outposts look like society has crumbled into villages filled with marauders ruled by tyrants. You can’t take your eyes off the screen; the footage controls your gaze.

She was a little girl when she first encountered the devilishly crude men who were part of the Biker Horde, led by the very treacherous Warlord Dementus (Chris Hemsworth, Thor). Years went by and her entanglement with the gang pulled her into a range war between other malicious fiefdoms in the immense Wasteland—a vast, arid landscape in the Australian wilderness where food, water, ammunition, oil and other survival essentials are rare and coveted.

As an adult, Furiosa (Anya Taylor-Joy, The Queen’s Gambit) finds her place among the warring factions and their battles. She has no choice; she must become a warrior to survive. Though that isn’t as important to her as finding her way back to the verdant hidden oasis of the Green Place of Many Mothers, a place of abundance where she was born and still longs for with her every breath. She’ll get there. Her mother’s last words are her driving force. “Whatever you have to do, however long it takes. Promise me you’ll find your way home.”

Miller and co-writer Nico Lathouris (Mad Max: Fury Road) have accomplished what the filmmakers of Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes could not. They’ve kept their franchise alive by taking an old setup, refreshing it with new distinctive characters, stunning vistas and a fascinating storyline. They’ve picked a worthy protagonist, who suffers so much loss and hardship audiences have to root for her as she develops into her own person: Dementus gives filmgoers someone to loathe. And if he isn’t vile and narcissistic enough, the screenplay throws in other bad guys who bully their degenerate followers and are as desperate for supplies as the next despot. Their script starts with a bang, and there’s no letting up after that—just a few chances to breathe.

Road warrior caravans and their journeys are the franchise’s lifeblood. Astounding chase and fight scenes are a key part of this chapter too, but not in the non-stop way showcased in previous episodes. The cast ventures off road to places like Citadel, Gas Town and Bullet Farm—outposts so bizarre, whole movies could be filmed on their premises alone. With the aide of action designer Guy Norris, and stunt people galore, the turmoil is well measured throughout with just a few strategic lulls. There are fights, explosions, arrows, snipers, dogged pursuits, turbo-boosted cargo trucks, speedy motorcycles, parachutists, and hang gliders. Is the action on view as mind boggling as that in the other Mad Maxes? Maybe not as consistently frenzied. However, the vision of Dementus riding a chariot pulled by three motorcycles is an indelible image. Watching Furiosa fight so furiously, putting life and limb on the line, is increasingly mesmerizing. There’s plenty for the most hardened action fan to enjoy—whether it’s on or off the main thoroughfare dubbed Fury Road.

But there’s no young Mel Gibson; no fiery Charlize Theron. And yet Anya Taylor-Joy handles the lead character role well. She’s tough in the action scenes; determined at all times; sad, scared, brave and wild when Furiosa needs to be. Fighting harder than the men as if she has something to prove. She’s more than ready to lead this renaissance. Hemsworth could be her demonic, stone-in-her-shoe rival for an eternity. He’s bold, brassy and over the top in a theatrical way. Supporting characters, from Charlee Fraser as Furiosa’s courageous mom to Lachy Hulme as warlord Immortan Joe of the Citadel, add certain power to the mix.

Try as you may, you won’t be able to fathom where this storyline leads. In that way, Miller is ingenious, and able to keep moviegoers guessing for two hours and 28 minutes. There is not a wasted moment; not an inkling who will survive. Stay until the unpredictable finale: a transitory conclusion. It’s a wow moment. A fitting coda to a surprisingly good rebirth. A rapturous phoenix.

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