Furiosa is slower and messier than Fury Road, but still high-octane fun

Furiosa is not the second coming of action movie Jesus like Fury Road was, but it's still a really good time at the theater.
Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga from Warner Bros.
Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga from Warner Bros. /

George Miller's 2015 film Mad Max: Fury Road is the best action movie of the last decade, and that's not a controversial opinion. That movie, set in Miller's decades-old Mad Max universe, straps electrodes directly to your brain stem and turns on the juice. Its strength is its directness. Our leads aren't so much characters as types of characters — Mad Max is the badass wanderer, Furiosa the avenging angel and Immortan Joe the pitiless tyrant. The plot revs up quickly: Furiosa helps Immortan Joe's harem of wives escape their luxury jail cells and Max helps them outrun Joe's pursuing army. Add in some death-defying stunts and effects, and you have a two-hour car chase you can return to again and again.

Furiosa tells the story of how the title character came to be in Immortan Joe's employ. Those expecting the nonstop action of Fury Road may be disappointed. Furiosa is longer, slower and talkier. While Fury Road puts the pedal to the metal early and never lets up, Furiosa takes turns, stops to enjoy the scenic route, and occasionally gets stuck in traffic.

It's a good movie, and doesn't feel like a Fury Road retread. Unfortunately, Fury Road was better at what it did than Furiosa is at what it tries to do.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga from Warner Bros. /

Review: Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

I think the strongest part of Furiosa is the beginning, when a young Furiosa (Alyla Browne) is snatched away from her homeland in a verdant green vally, a rarity in this dusty post-apocalypse. Her mother, played by Charlee Fraser, chases after her abducted daughter, coming very near to saving her before...well, we have a lot of movie to go, so I'll leave it to your imagination whether Furiosa's mother succeeds or whether Furiosa is scarred for the rest of her life.

Miller and screenwriter Nico Lathouris pace this portion of the movie well, lingering on the introduction of Chris Hemsworth's hammy villain Dementus, wrapped in plastic. I don't know if they're trying to invoke Hemsworth's performance as Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but Dementus does wear a kind of cape that's stained red early in the movie, and it was hard for me not to make the comparison. And like Thor, Dementus is a charismatic, meat-headed leader of men, only way more sadistic and crazy. I liked Hemswoth's nasally accent, which you'll hear a lot given that Dementus has the lion's share of the movie's lines. Hemsworth makes a lot of great acting choices and basically walks away with the film.

Although Anya Taylor-Joy more than holds her own. She debuts as Furiosa after a very elegant time jump; you'll know it when you see it. She has few lines of dialogue and has to convey most of her emotions — rage, anger, hope, rage, wrath and rage — with her eyes, which is easy to do when they're that big. With her willowy frame, I was afraid that Taylor-Joy wouldn't be able to match the muscular performance Charize Theron gave as Furiosa in Fury Road, and there are indeed a couple of moments where Taylor-Joy looks more like a runway model than a road warrior. But overall, she's up to the task.

As has always been the case with Mad Max, Furiosa has lots of silly little world-building details; my favorite is Demtentus riding around in a chariot pulled by two motorcycles. This movie feels like it's written by a couple of guys locked in a room trying to top each other coming up with crazier and crazier ideas, which is a fun energy. But structurally, the script is always stretching itself to get to the next action scene. There are way more extraneous parts than there were in Fury Road. Exhibit A is Tom Burke as Praetorian Jack, a driver working for Immortan Joe. It feels like he's left over from an earlier version of the movie. He's kind of the male lead, he's kind of Furiosa's mentor, he's kind of her love interest...but he isn't around long enough to grow into any of those roles. He's just sort of there and then he's gone, a low-rent version of Max who takes up space but doesn't command it.

In general, the script feels jumbled and crunched, especially after the first time jump. There's a point towards the end of the movie where a narrator tells us about a long bloody conflict we skip over completely so we can get to the big confrontation between Furiosa and Dementus. It's cool that Furiosa is trying to give us more to munch on than Fury Road, but it doesn't find the right shape for itself. I didn't think the movie was too long, but it definitely could have been shorter. The ending is also a bit awkward; you don't need to have seen Fury Road to enjoy Furiosa...until the very end, which ties directly into the former movie in a way that almost robs this one of a conclusion to call its own.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga from Warner Bros. /

Stunts, tricks and CGI

Finally, I wanna address the action scenes: there are some, and they are good. I particularly liked the first big set piece on the war rig, where Dementus' goons and Immortan Joe's goons pick each other off in increasingly creative ways until only Furiosa and Jack are left.

But I do have a but. We all go into modern action movies expecting there to be CGI, but the best movies trick us so thoroughly we don't realize what we're looking at. In Furiosa, there were a few too many times when I knew I was looking at a computer-generated effect. That's disappointing given how gritty and real Fury Road looked and felt from start to finish.

They play snippets from Fury Road over the end credits of Furiosa, and I couldn't help but notice how much more exciting some of them looked. When a guy drives a motorcycle through the air over a moving war rig in Fury Road, it looks like a guy driving a motorcycle through the air over a moving war rig, because it probably was a guy driving a motorcyle through the air over a moving war rig. When Dementus' goons start paragliding over a war rig in Furiosa, it looks like a bunch of special effects artists working hard to make the best scene they can. And it was delightful and surprising, but not as exciting.

I have a lot of complaints about Furiosa. But I was still entertained, I still recommend the movie, and I still appreciate the hard work of everyone who worked on it. So it doesn't top Fury Road; what could? It's still a wild trip worth taking.

Grade: B

Next. 4 great movies to watch while you wait for Shōgun season 2. 4 great movies to watch while you wait for Shōgun season 2. dark

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