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‘Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’ (review)

Let me begin this review by telling you, the reader, that I went into this screening of Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga with absolutely impossible expectations.

I have been waiting “patiently” for this film for almost a decade.

Thankfully, it wasn’t the 23 years I waited between Fury Road and its previous installment, Beyond Thunderdome. Still, it was a painful gap of time. I saw Fury Road fifteen times in the theater and countless times at home since. I have even gone to random screenings at art house theaters since its initial run.

To say that Furiosa had a nearly insurmountable mountain to climb is an understatement.

Was the wait worth it? Does this new Mad Mad Saga installment live up to its nearly perfect predecessor?

In the immortal words of Immortan Joe’s War Boys, “WITNESS ME!”

The Maestro, George Miller, has returned to the Wastelands he created that made him internationally famous. Nine years after Miller shocked audiences and the whole world with his tour-de-force, high octane, insane action masterpiece, Mad Max: Fury Road, comes his prequel, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.

Actress of the hour, Anya Taylor-Joy, is shiny and chrome as young Furiosa, taking the reins from Charlize Theron, who was absolutely incredible in the previous installment. Taylor-Joy is intense and formidable in the role as Theron was before her. In fact, every actress they cast to play all the iterations of Furiosa throughout the movie are sublime. They spend almost the entire first three quarters of the film having to act without dialogue. A feat that for even a seasoned actor is challenging at best and these young actresses conveyed the pain, anger and building silent rage superbly.

As for Anya Taylor-Joy, she continues to prove that she is absolutely a prolific and extraordinary actor. She is Furiosa.

At no point did I ever even doubt it. Not once.

This film turns the spotlight on the future War Rig driving Imperator. It addresses where she came from, how she came into employment with Immortan Joe, and what led her to risk her life and the lives of five of Joe’s prime breeders on the Fury Road in search of the fabled “Green Place”.

I am going to say this straight out. This film is amazing. I was anxious as hell to be perfectly honest. No Hugh Keays-Byrne as Immortan Joe, No Tom Hardy as Max, No Charlize Theron as Furiosa. And yet, this movie really pulled off the impossible. It was extremely good.

And still, for me, it did not live up to my experience of seeing Fury Road. How could it?

That film was incredibly special. Pretty much the definition of a once in a lifetime event. As much as I wanted to love this film the way I loved Fury Road, it is true, you cannot catch lightning in a bottle twice. Again this is not to say the film was bad in any way, shape, or form.

Yet three things struck me as I began watching this film. First, right off the bat, is the opening credits. You’ll know what I mean when you see it. As soon as the film began and I watched the opening logos and credits sequence I knew exactly what I was about to experience. I feel like they could have done this slightly differently without the exact callbacks from before. I get that they may have wanted to tie this into the same world history however I felt it was a little too on the nose.

Second is the cinematography. For me, almost immediately, I felt the absence of cinematographer John Seale, who shot the last film. There is a complete visual change in the shooting style. The elegant center-frame shooting style of Fury Road was missing. The way he and Miller chose to capture the incredible, almost impossibly fast, action sequences of Fury Road by keeping the main action in the center of the anamorphic screen makes for an imperceptible easy viewing experience in a frame of chaos and kinetic energy.

If you don’t know what center frame here is John Seale explaining it on Fury Road.

Lastly, Chris Hemsworth.

Chris Hemsworth, man.

At no point did I ever not think, “Wow, that’s Chris Hemsworth with a prosthetic nose and fake teeth..”  I love Chris Hemsworth. I think he is a great comedic actor and his sometimes over the top acting should have been perfect for this film. He could have been the next Wez and instead we just kinda got Chris Hemsworth basically playing another version of himself. He is Australia’s Tom Cruise, to me. You hire him to be just a slightly different flavor of himself and to his credit, that’s exactly what we got. The thing that kills me is that his monologue at the end of the film is almost perfectly performed. It was the only time in the entire film when I wasn’t pulled instantaneously out of the viewing experience thinking, “Okay, Thor.”, which sucks because EVERY SINGLE OTHER PERFORMANCE IS PERFECT.

Lachey Hume, who has stepped into the extremely large shoes of Immortan Joe left behind by the late Hugh Keays-Byrne, is phenomenal. All I can say is that he has made Immortan Joe even more imposing and menacing. As I was saying, almost all his acting is with his eyes, you see him thinking, plotting, he is now a strategizing warlord to fear even more so than before. I loved him.

The script, written once again by Miller and Nick Lathouris, who co-penned Fury Road, is where I think the film ultimately lets me down. Fury Road was a lean, only-what-you-need-to-know, show rather than tell, epic script. Furiosa’s screenplay could have used a little fat trimming, as they say.

I really liked that this time they have broken the film into chapters. I thought this was a great idea and lends itself perfectly to the almost fable nature of the story telling.

What I thought was completely unnecessary was the ongoing voice-over narration filling in the gaps to “help the story along”. It did not add to the film. It was a major detractor. I didn’t need the story “filled in” and spoon fed to me. I know what they were going for with the aforementioned chapter breaks and I believe it would have been infinitely more effective if they could have only used the prologue and then the epilogue narration they used as bookends and let the fable tell itself.

Much like the one in Mad Max 2 to bookend that film. They were already showing us an even richer world, building on what came before, we didn’t have to have it explained to us as well. It would be quite obvious what was going on purely with the incredible visuals.

I give credit where credit is due.

George Miller and his entire cast and crew have tackled the impossible:

Give us a film that is equal if not better than Mad Max Fury Road. In one way they absolutely succeeded. They have made a prequel film, one of the hardest genres to make, that can proudly stand with the giants that came before it. It is hard when the audience already knows what is going to come next. Much like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, some would say that this was an unnecessary endeavor, that we didn’t need to see where Furiosa came from in the same way we really didn’t need to know how the Rebel spies stole the Death Star plans. We already know everything we need to know, let it live more vividly and expansively in our minds.

And then I really love Rogue One and consider it the best Disney Era movie that is as good as the original trilogy,

Ultimately, in the end, Furiosa stands fierce and proud amongst the incredible films before it.

I totally understand that any issues I have are completely on me and I totally own them. I went into this screening with an unreasonably high expectation and a want and then had to adjust and I didn’t want to. Once I did then the movie was a fair bit more enjoyable. Unfortunately I don’t think it will ever reach that visual Nirvana I achieved in the 15 theater viewings of Fury Road and that is perfectly okay with me.

In the end the important thing is this: Will I be going to see it again? Hell yes.

Will I eventually purchase it on physical media? Absolutely.

Should people go and see it? If you loved Mad Max:Fury Road I think you will enjoy the hell out of this film.

The one thing you can not call this film is “MEDIOCRE!”

 *  *  *  *  *
Produced by Doug Mitchell and George Miller
Written by George Miller, Nico Lathouris
Based on Characters by George Miller, Byron Kennedy
Directed by George Miller
Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Burke, Alyla Browne,
Lachy Hulme, Nathan Jones, Josh Helman, John Howard

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