Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga Review: There’s Not Enough Guzzoline In The Tank To Get George Miller’s New Prequel To The Finish Line

 Anya Taylor-Joy takes cover with a shotgun as flames engulf the background in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga. .
Anya Taylor-Joy takes cover with a shotgun as flames engulf the background in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga. .

The vast seas of development hell are much like the wasteland that creator/director George Miller’s Mad Max sets its story. With long stretches where nothing grows, and where hope can be dangerous, it’s a miracle when projects like 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road not only survive, but thrive upon escape. So the eventual greenlight for that film’s prequel, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, felt like a blessing, especially since decades of market forces, absent tax breaks and other extenuating circumstances didn’t get in the way of its production. And yet, after seeing the Anya Taylor-Joy/Chris Hemsworth led showdown myself, I kind of wish it had been.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Chris Hemsworth in Furiosa
Chris Hemsworth in Furiosa

Release Date: May 24, 2024.

Directed By: George Miller

Written By: George Miller, Nico Lathouris

Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Burke, and Alyla Browne.

Rating: R for sequences of strong violence, and grisly images.

Runtime: 146 minutes

Telling the story of the future Imperator Furiosa (Anya Taylor-Joy), this eponymous prequel is supposed to go all in on its heroine’s journey. While the scale of the story certainly plays towards that enlarged scope, the actual tale co-written between Miller and Mad Max: Fury Road co-writer Nico Lathouris doesn’t have the focus required to lock all the machinery into an effective exercise.

Sure, there are moments of joy and performances that help make pieces of Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga enjoyable. But for a movie that’s almost half an hour longer than its thematic predecessor, this misguided attempt at giving the people what they want feels like it drags much longer. What a slog. What a draining slog.

Furiosa gets a massive lore expansion in this prequel, and I don’t think we needed it.

When Mad Max: Fury Road burst onto the scene, the 2015 film delivered a level of practical effects and breakneck storytelling that was always on the go. From start to finish, George Miller’s previous entry in his landmark action dystopia franchise never relented, and it made a star out of Charlize Theron’s Furiosa in particular. With her name squarely framed for future expansions in either direction of the timeline, I should be celebrating the fact that Furiosa introduces a massive lore expansion to her character.

I’m sorry to say that this sort of celebration is short-lived, as the woman who fought the world feels like a supporting character in her own saga’s first act. Holding court over the initial arc setting up the apocalypse of Mad Max for beginners is Dementus (Chris Hemsworth), a warlord who seems to be racing the infamous Immortan Joe for the title of “Wasteland’s Worst Dude.” Story-wise, it never really comes together, but at least Hemsworth’s performance shows he’s truly digging into the material.

All of Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’s problems stem from the fact that the picture never overcomes the standard set of problems prequels and spinoffs always face. There was enough lore in Mad Max: Fury Road to put together the backstory for Furiosa’s eventual rise to power. Those events are, for the most part, shown playing out in the opening minutes, giving way to a nice chunk of time focusing on young Furiosa (Alyla Browne) being in captivity with Dementus.

The path to the events we know will unfold when Anya Taylor-Joy becomes Charlize Theron isn’t very novel, nor does it contribute more than an additional villain, a wasted love interest, and a couple action set-pieces to the mix. Not to mention, the final moments of this movie are so devoted to Mad Max: Fury Road, the standard ambiguity of continuity known to reign in this kingdom is totally thrown out of the war rig. The only evidence you need towards that point is the clip show of scenes from the superior “sequel.”

This prequel is so unfocused that even the talents of Anya Taylor-Joy and Chris Hemsworth are stretched to their limits.

For as long as Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga runs, it takes quite a while to get to Anya Taylor-Joy’s portrayal of our new vision of heroism in the wastes. Even then, there’s dialogue-free stretches, which I presume are supposed to symbolize our protagonist eventually finding her voice after a traumatic backstory.

With Charlize Theron’s recasting being daunting in any scenario, Anya Taylor-Joy is certainly up to the task of becoming the new face of Furiosa. But since the sprawling narrative that attempts to honor that commitment isn’t on that same level, her talents are mostly wasted here. I say mostly because there’s a brief arc where we see Furiosa and fellow warrior Praetorian Jack (Tom Blake) go from allies to sweethearts in what feels like a blink of an eye.

That plot thread in particular feels like a glimmer of what everyone wanted Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga wanted to be. And if there’s any section that benefits from the strong and silent approach, it’s watching Joy and Blake bond in the midst of Hell on Earth. At the same time, it’s so quick that it never truly lands the emotions that George Miller is aiming for, which leaves the admiration for these actors as scene partners rather than lovers.

Even Chris Hemsworth cranking it up to 22 as the well-named Dementus can’t inject enough charm into this very extended Mad Max flashback. Sparkling dialogue and an exciting facial prosthetic are only part of the fun at play, as Hemsworth’s heavy does get some interesting angles that separate him from his would-be foe. Alas, not even the actor’s charm can break the laws of movie physics, leaving a late story monologue that should be a revelation feeling like another test of the viewer’s patience.

Furiosa is a post-apocalyptic endurance test in all of the wrong ways.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’ quest spans 15 years, and I felt every one of them watching this tale putter across a finish line that doesn’t take the time to revel in its finality. With a prequel so immediate in proximity to established events, there’s always a risk of sacrificing novelty for continuity. That sacrifice is ultimately what costs Furiosa the sort of novelty that allowed Fury Road to inspire it.

An over-reliance on big-time CGI further contributes to the decline of this story, as danger and suspense give way to overly flashy sequences of increasing destruction. Every now and then, George Miller’s patented weirdness does rear its head, if only to remind us of what it feels like when his madman ways are truly let off the chain.

Furiosa is firmly on the chain, staying in the lane of events and tones that we’ve come to expect from Mad Max. In that way, robbing Furiosa of her mysterious backstory becomes even more of a betrayal, because her character really was the door to a totally different story. It’s hard not to quote Immortan Joe himself and call this film the definition of “mediocre,” but since that’s one of the references this picture seemed to miss on its checklist, it’s oddly fitting.