Monday, May 27, 2024


Furiosa is an unhurried adventure epic to Mad Max: Fury Road’s cannon blast actioner. Together they form quite a pair. George Miller’s 2015 revisiting of his post-apocalyptic Aussie wasteland was an instant classic, with his hero Max riding that Fury Road with the imperious Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a warrior truck driver for a nasty desert despot who’s decided to free the villain’s harem and flee to her homeland. That film was an all-out road-rage chase picture that barely lets its foot off the gas. Miller’s endless invention found more ways to wring suspense and energy and righteous violence out of jerry-rigged, tricked-out vehicles than even his Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome—though no slouches in the action department—ever suggested possible. But now we’re borne back into the past for Furiosa’s origin story. Immediately it’s clear this movie will take on a different pace, with a structure of sturdy chapter designations letting us know we’re in for something with the weight of an epic—a story of sprawling biblical dimensions, a biographical excursion, a story of a girl’s survival across decades of duty and despair, and a gripping tale of vengeance long in the making.

The movie’s telling has a classical widescreen elegance—all Lean and Leone stretching across the desert in expressionistic CG embellishments—and a hard-charging action eccentricity, with Miller’s usual dedication to details of his world colored in quickly and casually. And it has that heart-felt attentiveness to vulnerability and consequences that give each act of violence such horrible heft, and each clever reversal in favor of an underdog such vivid satisfaction. It starts with Furiosa as a child (Alyla Browne) stolen by bandits from a verdant oasis. She takes a vow of silence to protect her friends’ and family’s hidden home, though it dooms her to stay in the villainous clutches of the brutal biker tribe lead by Dementus (Chris Hemsworth, breathing a menacing squawk of a voice through a prosthetic nose). He rides in a rumbling chariot pulled by two snarling motorcycles, and his ragtag gaggle of reprobates rev engines around him. There’s a Miller villain if ever there was one. The movie follows his attempts to consolidate power in the Wastelands—bringing him into conflict with one Immortan Joe, Fury Road’s despot with scraggly blonde hair, wild eyes, and a toothy mask. As war for resources in this corner of the dystopic post-civilization Outback escalates, Furiosa grows. She hides out in one camp, then another, making tenuous allies and proving her worth, all the while biding her time to get her revenge. She’s surrounded by oddball characters and dangerous deviants in a world tearing itself apart in the wilderness. Through her eyes, it becomes a movie about a society in free fall, and the indignities of chaos and injustice that accrue and explode.

This war for control of the Wastelands is clearly the crucible that forms Furiosa’s steely heroism. But rather than proceeding apace to a foregone conclusion, this is a movie that’s alive with possibility and entirely invested in her survival and development. An early scene in which she witnesses her mother tortured to death is shot in an extreme close-up as a reflection in her watery eye—and that sets the tone going forward. Here’s a girl who’ll see unimaginable horrors and, though they will become a part of her, they will not break her. Later, there’s an extended sequence—one with a lengthy chase sequence behind, around, aboard, on top, and through an enormous tanker truck attacked by Rube Goldberg machines (one imagines this is also Miller proving he can still pull off what made the last picture so great)—finds young adult Furiosa (Anya Taylor-Joy) making an ally of one of the Immortan’s drivers (Tom Burke). Together they find a kinship as kindred caring hearts made hard through the needs of survival. They connect on a human level in an inhumane environment. And yet this tenderness is inevitably subsumed by the need to fight—to emerge from flames holding a machine gun, or racing off on a motor bike cradling a broken and bleeding limb. (The action is as gripping as it is patiently distributed.) Miller finds time for these grace notes of cool and caring alike, in a film equally interested in iconography as it is in morality and motivation. It imbues the transformations of its title character with a deepening emotionality—coloring in the implications that were in Theron’s gaze last time with all this new understanding born from excitement and tragedy. Out of the darkest times, new hope grows.

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