Anya Taylor-Joy and Chris Hemsworth put pedal to the metal in George Miller’s blistering return to his Mad Max universe

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Source: Warner Bros

‘Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’

Dir: George Miller. Australia. 2024. 148mins

It may be subtitled ‘A Mad Max Saga’, but Furiosa belongs to the eponymous protagonist whose metamorphosis from wide-eyed innocent to the wasteland badass of legend fuels this high-octane revenge thriller. Introduced to audiences in George Miller’s 2015 reboot Mad Max: Fury Road (then played by Charlize Theron), Furiosa (now Anya Taylor-Joy) is given her own standalone origin story — and it’s as bombastic as she deserves. While any narrative nuance is left in the dust by the film’s singular focus on bloody retribution at all costs, it is one hell of a ride.

 Cements Furiosa’s place in the wider Mad Max mythology

The latest instalment in this 45-year-old franchise rolls out globally from May 23 after premiering out of Competition in Cannes and, buoyed a bold marketing campaign, Furiosa — co-scripted by Miller and long-time Mad Max co-writer Nico Lathouris — should be able to match the $380m worldwide success of Fury Road, even in these difficult times. Fury Road also won Oscars across six craft categories, something Miller and his Furiosa team might emulate.

In the inhospitable wastelands of an apocalyptic Earth — brief pre-title audio speaks of climate change and pandemics leading to a “terminal freakout point” — humans have been reduced to a hardscrabble existence. Competition for limited resources means violence is currency, and a few self-proclaimed warlords rule over the parched land. Ensconced in a lush and fiercely-protected secret enclave known (somewhat unsubtly) as ‘The Green Place Of Many Mothers’, the young Furiosa (played by Taylor-Joy lookalike Alyla Browne, excellent) knows nothing about such hardship until, one fateful day, she is captured by a marauding motorcycle gang and taken to their leader, Dementus (Chris Hemsworth).

Furiosa’s mother mounts a thrilling rescue attempt across the dunes (the film, like all previous instalments apart from Fury Road, shot in Australia, this time in New South Wales), only for it to fail in gruesome style. And so the first half of the film gives itself over to young Furiosa’s experiences living as a captive of Dementus’ vicious gang — a sort of stylish extended exposition as she silently absorbs the violence and stores it up for later. Here, Hemsworth’s role as pantomine-villain-on-acid Dementus allows him to combine his terrific comic timing and natural charisma (not to mention some impressive nasal prosthetics). There are occasional hints of the man he used to be — the teddy bear he wears chained to his back belonged to his own children — and that he and Furiosa are both motivated by grief is an irony at which the screenplay hints.

While Fury Road took place over just three days, lending it a non-stop kinetic energy, Furiosa spans 15 years, divided into several chapters, which results in slower and sometimes uneven pacing. We spend a long time with young Furiosa before she comes across the citadel of warlord Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme). Dementus reluctantly trades Furiosa to Joe in return for the stewardship of Gas World, a profitable munitions outpost, and she is expected to grow into one of Joe’s ’wives’, tasked with giving birth to his children or, if unable, becoming a ‘milker’.

Furiosa has no desire to stay in this patriarchal prison — a theme more overtly returned to in Fury Road — and, escaping and disguising herself as a boy, she becomes a valuable worker within the citadel. Some time later, and now played by Anya Taylor-Joy, she stows away on the newly-minted War Rig, an imposing armoured truck which she helps defend from attack in an epic extended sequence. Her heroics capture the attention of driver Praetorian Jack (a charmingly taciturn Tom Burke), who promises to train her in ‘road war’. A quick cut later, and Furiosa emerges as a fully-formed warrior with unmatched driving skills, and a bloodlust that can only be sated by the death of Dementus.

From here, the film races full pelt to its — obvious, but no less satisfying — conclusion, with various vehicular chases and an all-out showdown at Gas World that is, like all of the film’s set pieces, an eye-popping blend of effects and stunt work during which DoP Simon Duggan’s freewheeling camera works in tandem with a propulsive, bone-shaking score from Junkie XL (aka Tom Holkenborg, returning from Fury Road). Throughout, Taylor-Joy cuts a striking figure, often framed as a point of stillness in the middle of carnage. Working with limited dialogue, she uses her physicality to express her growing strength, determination and sense of justice that both fleshes out and dovetails with Theron’s embodiment of the character, and cements Furiosa’s place in the wider Mad Max mythology.

Production companies: Warner Bros, Kennedy Miller Mitchell

Worldwide distribution: Warner Bros

Producers: George Miller, Doug Mitchell

Screenplay: George Miller, Nico Lathouris

Cinematography: Simon Duggan

Production design: Colin Gibson

Editor: Margaret Sixel, Eliot Knapman

Music: Junkie XL

Main cast: Anya Taylor Joy, Chris Hemsworth, Alyla Browne, Tom Burke, Lachy Hulme