Almost nine years to the day since Mad Max: Fury Road premiered in Cannes, George Miller returns to the Croisette with Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga. It’s a deafening roar of a film, full of the same improbable vehicles and breathless pursuits through the director’s signature dystopian outback, though now told through a lens that can feel a bit slick at times. It tells the story of how Imperator Furiosa (immortalized by Charlize Theron in 2015 and gamely reinterpreted here by Alyla Browne and Anya Taylor-Joy) came to be, tracking her journey from childhood and the Place of Abundance––an Edenic oasis of renewable energy and worrying red apples––to hardened warrior in the wastelands of Bullet Farm, Gastown, and The Citadel of Immortan Joe. The concerns that met the trailer––suggesting Miller had traded in his predecessor’s practical effects for CGI––are, I’m sorry to say, not entirely unfounded. But Furiosa can still boast moments to take the breath away. Did we need it? Probably not. Are the chase scenes still phenomenal? Absolutely.

Admittedly, there are few tougher acts to follow than Mad Max: Fury Road. By returning to that realm, Miller was always going to have to contend not with the shadow of a masterpiece but also the near-mythic lore of its creation––all those versions that could have been, all those actors that came and went, all those times the studio pulled the plug. Fury Road felt like some kind of miracle in 2015 because everything that led to it happening actually did happen––every fluke and misfortune, from Heath Ledger’s untimely death to Miller’s steadfast insistence on using Margaret Sixel’s hyperactive edit. (A decision that was vindicated long before Sixel [also Miller’s wife] won the Academy Award.) Steven Soderbergh spoke for many when he said, “I don’t understand how they’re not still filming that and I don’t understand how hundreds of people aren’t dead.”

All that aside, Furiosa was always going to live or die on the strength of its chase scenes; credit to Miller and his team for coming up with a new box of tools here. The War Rig, for one, is given a shiny update, complete with two auxiliary grappling arms and a tassel of maces that hang from the back, simply begging to be spun around. (Better still: the chasing pack have learned how to glide.) Miller’s most radical act in Furiosa is to momentarily pare things down: its incredible opening sequence makes do with no more than four motorbikes, a sniper rifle, and the wide expanse of the desert. It’s static, minimal, strangely beautiful, and the best part of a film that often struggles to recreate such magic. It also proves an early warning sign of Furiosa‘s more orderly aesthetic––a considerably less-gritty approach that lends some of the action a striking sense of clarity but makes much of the CGI look quite motion-smoothed and a little janky.

The biggest new addition in characters is Chris Hemsworth’s Dr. Dementus, the head of a large, roving bike gang who abducts Furiosa early on. The story follows Dementus and his followers as they make their way through the wastelands, eventually happening upon the Citadel, Immortan Joe, and his War Boy army. A trade leaves the still-young Furiosa in Joe’s hands and Dementus in control of Gastown. Determined not to spend her days amongst the wives, Furiosa slips out, disguises herself as a boy, and begins a gradual rise through the ranks in the Citadel’s engine rooms. Here she meets Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke), who becomes her closest ally. Jack is essentially Furiosa‘s stand-in for Max; Burke steals every moment of his limited screen-time. Taylor-Joy is just as good, mimicking Theron’s delivery and watchful gaze without slipping into imper(ator)sonation. Some familiar faces return, as does Junkie XL’s rousing score. Outside the occasionally janky CGI, Hemsworth’s performance––he plays Dementus as a comic-book bad guy instead of the craven villain this franchise usually thrives on––is probably the film’s main flaw.

In an apology for his notorious behavior during the shoot, Tom Hardy said that understanding Miller’s vision was like having someone describe a color you’d never seen. Furiosa‘s ambitions are not so grand: whole worlds that flew by in an instant in the previous film––snippets of information Miller left to bloom or fester in the viewer’s imagination––are made to bear the indignity of being explained here. It’s also probably 30 minutes too long. And still––against all––when those cars start chugging diesel, engines revving like a thunderstorm, it’s hard to think of a comparable feeling. Furiosa isn’t perfect, but it might scratch an itch you didn’t know you still had.

Furiosa premiered at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival and opens on May 24

Grade: B+

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