Another Journey Across the Fury Road

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Let’s be direct about this: Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is a weird movie for a number of reasons. The most obvious is, of course, this is the first Mad MaxStarted with a single 1970s Australian exploitation flick (a popular genre in the country at the time), the Mad Max series went on to spawn three sequels, an entire genre, style, and what many consider the greatest action film of all time, Fury Road. Not bad from a little low-budget film about cars smashing each other after the fall of society. tie-in film (or book, or game, etc.) that doesn’t star the titular Max Rockatansky. Every film in the series before now has featured Max in the lead role, and while you could argue he (as played by Tom Hardy) was the co-lead with Furiosa (played by Charlize Theron) in Mad Max: Fury Road, he was are way into the story and action of that film, and he was also a key player in the story. It was his movie as much as it was Furiosa, but he’s nowhere to be scene (except for a back-view, blink and you miss it cameo) in this Mad Max Saga film.

It’s also the first prequel we’ve ever had to the Mad Max series. All of the films have, more or less, taken place in the same loose timeline, one after the next. While it’s true that the continuity of the series has been loose and malleable, largely because creator George Miller doesn’t really care about those details with his series (like, seriously, Max has to be pushing 100 if we follow the actual details of the timeline as we know it across five films), they’ve still never directly built off or gone back to fill in details. A prequel is a new and weird thing in this series where details like “what came before” and “what’s next” haven’t really been relevant. Max shows up, causes carnage, helps people, and leaves. That’s all we’ve ever needed and the series hasn’t felt the need to go back and revisit details to flesh them out.

In fact, the series has never even done direct continuations of any kind before. Mad Max led to Road Warrior (aka Mad Max 2), and the world changed so drastically between the two films that if you didn’t know the second was a prequel, you’d never be wise. Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome at least took place in the same kind of world as Road Warrior, but actors were recast into new roles, none of the previous characters (outside of Max) showed up in the sequel, and anything that happened before was irrelevant to what was going on in that film. They were all self-contained and individual, and that included Fury Road. The series has never cared about revisiting, so why start now?

The answer is that George Miller took so long developing Fury Road and getting a studio on board to make it that he had so many ideas, was in love with so many of his characters, that he couldn’t just let it go. He wrote an entire script for Furiosa so that Charlize Theron could understand where her character had been in the lead up to the movie) and because of that, he had that script bumping around when Warner Bros. came back and said, “so, Fury Road eventually became a success. Did you want to make another Mad Max film?” Miller got to bring out his Furiosa script and this was the only thing he wanted to make. And you know what, that’s great. I’m happy that George Miller gets to make movies for himself. That’s awesome.

With that said, I’m not sure this is a story that really needed to be told. The trick with a prequel is that you have to be able to convey information viewers didn’t know, info that didn’t somehow come out in the previous (now “later”) film, for a prequel to work. While there are scenes and moments in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga that live up to the energy and the spectacle of Fury Road, the film as a whole feels like an addendum to that film, a “previously on” meant to show a long-form version of a story we already basically knew. I can appreciate that George Miller loves this world and wanted to show us more of it. I just don’t know if this was the story we actually needed to see.

As we learned in Mad Max: Fury Road, Furiosa (played in this film by Alyla Browne and Anya Taylor-Joy as a teen and adult) was taken from her home in “the Green Place” and hauled away to the open desert by bad men. Her mother followed, and then died trying to rescue the girl. She spent years under the thumb of Immortan Joe (played here by Lachy Hulme) before rising to a position of power as an Imperator, a driver of the massive war rigs that rolled along the Fury Road. And, it was in that position of power that she managed to come up with a plan to escape and drive off the road, across the desert to the Green Place and find her home once more.

This film, then, fills in the details. It wasn’t Immortan Joe but a different warlord of the Wasteland, Dementus (Chris Hemsworth), who was the leader of the men that kidnapped Furiosa (which is her given name and not one she earned on the Fury Road). He had her mother killed in front of her, and then spent years dragging her around, pretending she was his daughter until such time as he could use her as a bargaining chip with Immortal Joe. Dementus took over Gastown, one of the three fortresses of the Wasteland, while Immortan Joe kept control of the Citadel and Bullet Farm, and he gave Furiosa to Immortan Joe so she could be one of his many wives. But she flees that position and becomes one of the vehicle engineers, hiding in plain sight among his people. And then she plots, and waits, and takes every opportunity she can to gain power and find a way to take on Dementus and get her revenge.

And this, right here, is a major issue with the film. The first movie, Mad Max: Fury Road, makes it pretty clear that Furiosa’s beef is with Immortan Joe. There’s no mention of Dementus in that film, even though we have to assume (since he had a script written for Furiosa before he made Fury Road) that he knew the character existed. He wasn’t a blip so it didn’t matter. He’s a big part of the story here, but by making Dementus our main villain he diminishes Immortan Joe’s place in the story. We don’t see enough of Immortan Joe to really care about him one way or the other. He isn’t the focus of the film even though he’s a key player, and what we know about him from Fury Road is all we get to know about him here.

Put another way, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is so focused on fleshing out all the little details and callbacks to the previous film – here’s how Furiosa came to the Citadel, here’s how she became a driver on the war rig, here’s how she lost her arm – that it doesn’t spend enough time focusing on the parts of her story that are compelling. A battle between her and Dementus where she finds her own strength and rises in power until she kills him on his own, and then drives into Immortan Joe’s lands only to get captured and enslaved again tells us what we need to know without having to ride on the callbacks. This film, though, doesn’t give us that narrative, and it splits its focus so much that nothing ever really comes together.

That’s not to say that there’s nothing compelling here. The film is broken up into chapters and any one chapter would be solid as an adventure on its own. Furiosa’s time in the Green Place leading up to her capture could be fleshed out into an hour long story that would give us focus and detail. The same could be said for her time with Dementus, her time with Immortan Joe as a young wife avoiding his advances, her time as an engineer, and as a war rig driver, and the time she spends seeking her revenge. Hell, there’s an entire chapter in the film about the 40 Days War of the Wasteland, and all we see of it is maybe 20 seconds before Furiosa drives off to get her revenge on the fleeing Dementus. This one section could have been an entire film on its own and we barely see it.

I think Miller had so many ideas, and was so focused on Furiosa’s story so that he could have her prepared for Mad Max: Fury Road that he didn’t really see how underbaked this script was as a film. I think more time was needed fleshing out each of these little compelling story ideas so they could have been bigger chunks of a larger narrative. Maybe as a MaxThe oldest and longer-running cable subscription service, HBO provides entertainment in the force of licensed movies along with a huge slate of original programming, giving it the luster of the premiere cable service. Now known primarily for its streaming service, Max. limited series instead of a movie, with hour-long episodes at each junction of Furiosa’s tale. I actually think that would have given the proper time and focus for this project to work and, as a bonus, it wouldn’t have needed to be a Box Office success to make its money because it would have been made for a format where those kinds of numbers didn’t matter.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga feels rushed, but that’s because it was designed as a cliff notes for Furiosa’s life so she could be in a different movie. George Miller wanted to revisit this world, and the one thing, above all else, that this film proves is that the world itself is detailed and interesting. I enjoyed coming back to this world, this specific slice of the Wasteland, to see these locations and venture further in the world. Miller’s vision is detailed and interesting and there are plenty of narratives that could be crafted from this slice of the world of Mad Max. I think there’s merit in coming here again.

And Miller is a great director. He knows his way around action (there’s a war rig sequence halfway into this prequel that gives you all the thrills you want from a movie associated with Fury Road) and he can get great performances out of his actors (Taylor-Joy and Hemsworth are fantastic here). It’s not that he set out to make a bad movie this time around, it’s just that the story he made, because he was so in love with it, wasn’t compelling enough when put into the larger narrative we already knew. This story is one half of a bigger adventure, and the bigger, better half already came out. This movie builds to a climax that we can only get because Fury Road exists. That’s where this film has to lead, inevitably, because it’s so caught up in trying to inform us of how we get there. It can’t stand on its own because it was never designed to.

This film is a bit of a misfire, but it’s a noble one. It’s not a bad movie, per se. It’s certainly not as bad as Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, the worst movie of this series. It just lacks the hook, the reason, the need to truly exist. Furiosa is a great character, and George Miller is a great director. This time, though, those elements couldn’t come together in a truly compelling whole. Hopefully, if Miller gets to play in his world of the Wasteland again after this he’s able to find a story that can truly live up to the greatness of Mad Max: Fury Road.