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‘Furiosa’ Isn’t Just a Prequel to ‘Fury Road’ — It’s a Perfect Origin-Story Saga

Filmmaker George Miller returns to the Wasteland to tell us how the ‘Mad Max’ savior took her own hero’s journey — and delivers another high-octane knockout


Warner Bros.

She is watchful, wary, able to ward off Wasteland degenerates and War Boys alike with a well-aimed headshot. She’s a survivor, a scrapper, someone who makes a compelling case for smeared axle grease as a postapocalyptic fashion statement. You need someone to do repair work on a War Rig going 99 mph on a run to Bullettown? She’s your go-to. One day, she will rescue a harem of “wives” held captive by a psychotic madman, and meet a slightly less mad man named Max. For the moment, however, the one they call Furiosa is focusing her energy toward achieving a single goal. She wants to destroy the cult leader who murdered her mother, and she will commandeer every scrap-metal jalopy, burn down every citadel, and crash every chrome-plated assault vehicle from here to Fury Road in order to do so. Vengeance will be hers.

When Australian filmmaker/action-film godhead George Miller decided to go back into the desert and manifest the decades-long dream of a fourth Mad Max film into existence, people thought he’d lost his mind. The result was 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road — a masterpiece, an instant classic of kinetic cinema, and a modern blockbuster that somehow harkened back to the Golden Age of analog stunts and demolition-derby–level mayhem. It was enough to restore your faith in a certain type of loud, brash, how-they-fuck-did-they-pull-that-off moviemaking. And it also introduced a female hero that could not only stand proudly beside Aliens’ Ripley and Terminator 2‘s Sarah Connor, but was capable of stealing the spotlight from the franchise’s namesake. The title may have been Max’s, but the movie itself belonged to Furiosa. It was really her story. And now we can see how this warrior of the road became the last woman standing.

Furiosa takes you back to the beginning, by which we mean the Garden of Eden — or the dystopic series’ version of the biblical paradise, at the very least. (The trees grow peaches instead of apples, but a soon-to-be-tainted utopia by any other name….) As played by newcomer Alyla Browne, a young Furiosa is plucking a piece of fruit when she hears a noise. A roving biker gang has stumbled upon the fabled “Green Place,” where the girl and her agrarian community have attempted to rebuild civilization from the ground up. She’s abducted. Furiosa’s sharpshooting mother (Charlee Fraser) is in hot pursuit. She must save her kid. Also, these feral thugs have found this secret Shangra-La and its location must be protected by any means necessary.

A wild game of cat-and-mouse ensues, with roles reversing back and forth. Mom picks off bad guys in the desert with her sniper rifle. Furiosa tries to escape, is caught, tries to escape again. Bikes are abandoned, then repurposed. A few manage to make it to their encampment, where a dictator named Dementus (Chris Hemsworth, apparently borrowing facial prosthethics from an outback Shakesperean troupe) holds court. He wants to know where paradise is. Mom sneaks in after hours. Another escape. Bullets fly. Bodies drop. Engines rev. A sacrifice. A loss of innocence. A moviegoer exhales. Barely 20 minutes have passed. We’re just getting started.

Go back and watch Fury Road again (assuming that you don’t already do that on a regular basis), and you’ll notice that the movie is essentially a feature-length chase scene in three acts. The fact that Miller and his team of collaborators not only spent over a decade designing the mind-blowing set pieces and meticulously building the trashed world of these Wasteland dwellers, but employed a dramaturge to help integrate the spectacle into the storytelling made all the difference. Each one of the action sequences fused the relentless forward momentum of those customized vehicles with narrative momentum; the adrenaline rush was merely a means to an end. Yes, it put the “car” back into carnage. Still: every collision mattered.

The bar was set incredibly, impossibly high, even by Miller’s back-catalog standards. Furiosa has no desire to top those turbo-charged chases and death-defying stunts and crash-boom-bang War Boy attacks. Instead, it borrows the aesthetics and the mayhem templates from the previous movie, sprinkles variations on your favorite highly choreographed moments of anarchic action into a slightly more typical hero’s-journey tale, and gives everything a bit more room to breathe. What Miller & Co. are going for here is something akin to a hyperventilating character study — and one that doesn’t make those two elements contradictory. That they manage to pull it off makes the achievement makes it doubly impressive. What this memory-lane trip down the most furious of roads lacks in the shock of the new, it more than makes up for in expanding this particular cinematic universe. More importantly, it gives you a better sense of its main character’s place in it.

So by the time we hit the hour mark and an adult Furiosa shows up — and we’re back at the mountain lair of Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme) and his recurring cast of scallywags — we completely understand how the scared, battle-tested girl has evolved out of necessity into the traumatized, battle-scarred woman standing before us, ready to go once more unto the breach in a tricked-out War Rig. Most performers would be petrified to step into the dusty, cracked boots worn by Charlize Theron, who both owned the role and made it iconic. Anya Taylor-Joy knows that her Furiosa will be judged by how she walks the desert miles in those shoes, and the Last Night in Soho actor immediately gives you the sense that she can nimbly skip along this well-trod path. Like Theron, she has screen presence to burn. And like her predecessor, she understands how to present someone putting up a tough facade and show you the real survivalist steel beneath the stoic front. Taylor-Joy doesn’t have a lot of dialogue, either. She doesn’t need it.

Action is character, character is action, a real landscape is filled gearheads and gutterpunks and power-mad gurus, then turned into a proving ground for both fictional metal contraptions and actual mettle-testing stunt teams — Furiosa blurs so many lines in its attempt to thrill you and dot its fable with freak-flag-flying. You become invested in the fate of these postapocalyptic heroes, and you fear for the lives of the people executing the chaos onscreen for our entertainment. On the level of virtuosity alone, the film laps most other white-knuckling actions films. One major set piece involving Furiosa, Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke), his fortress-on-wheels called “The Stowaway,” bleached-skin War Boys, aggressive hot rodders and parasailing attackers is nothing less than a silent-cinema magnum opus unto itself, part hairpin slapstick and part hard-narcotic high — it’s like a three-reeler short directed by “Crack Sennett.” Jack, by the way, is the one who mentors Furiosa in the ways of behind-the-wheel “road warring.” Should the allusion be too subtle, Miller dresses him in vintage Mad Max black-on-black and poses him against an open road in an exact copy of the famous Mel Gibson shot in The Road Warrior. Kudos, sir.

It’s hard to imagine Miller managing to gather his stamina and get his co-conspirators back together in the unforgiving terrain of a scorched earth one more time, considering how legendarily arduous the Fury Road shoot was. Yet there they went, and here we are, and we’re all the better for it. The filmmaker knew there was more story to tell, more of Furiosa’s arc worth exploring, more awe and wonder and allegory left in the franchise tank. He’s said he didn’t set out to make a feminist parable with this film (nor was that his aim with Fury Road, despite Furiosa’s dominance in that picture). But he’s also smart enough to recognize that a ruinous patriarchy runs rampant in Max and Furiosa’s world — and our own — and savvy enough to suggest that even soil steeped in that system’s toxic blood might be the manure that helps the seeds of a better world sprout up. Furiosa runs on a high-octane philosophical perspective that finds hope in a hopeless place. Also, a lot of cars go fast and shit blows up. It’s a win-win.

From Rolling Stone US