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‘Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’ review: A prequel destined for greatness

Ryan Oquiza

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‘Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’ review: A prequel destined for greatness

Warner Bros. Pictures' YouTube

While not as good as ‘Fury Road’ (what film can be?), Anya Taylor-Joy and Chris Hemsworth deliver a revenge flick filled with inimitable action and epic performances

This review contains minor spoilers

Is it too much to ask for viscerality in action? Mad Max: Fury Road, the 2015 epic helmed by George Miller after 15 years of constant production headaches, answered this question with a resounding and confident “no.” It’s a consummate film of high-octane, four-wheeled pursuits and purposeful stunts that felt all too real — because, for the most part, they were.

In Kyle Buchanan’s Blood, Sweat & Chrome, a recounting of the nearly two-decade production of Fury Road, he quotes Steven Soderbergh saying: “I don’t understand how they’re not still shooting that film, and I don’t understand how hundreds of people aren’t dead.” It was a miracle that the eventual six-time Academy Award-winning film got made, and in my opinion, it remains the best the 21st century has to offer in action.

Though, the problem with the film industry is that progress is not a linear line. Trends can come out of nowhere and can create new and undisciplined practices. And if a film that took so long to make created pain and anguish that only the Namib Desert can remember, then it’s very likely that the magic of Fury Road can never be recaptured again. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga attempts at doing so. Does it succeed? Well, yes and no.

Without a doubt, George Miller is still at his A-game. There is a marked difference between the seismic nature of his filmmaking and the industry’s uninspired flatness of late. He remains true to the rough-and-tumble roots of the first few Mad Max films, and even continues to toy with B-movie-esque spectacles. His visual storytelling remains his most keen interest, like if a daredevil were given a camera and told to shoot with frantic clarity.

But, there are clear compromises done here. Ones that, though standard for common blockbusters, is a surprise to see in a Mad Max film. The action still retains its visceral energy, but something about it feels toned down by about 30 or 40 percent. Of course, 60 percent of George Miller is better than 100 percent of most filmmakers, but the forces he usually masters — realism, urgency, and tension — feel unusually skewed towards the mean.

Maybe the reason lies in the clutter, which is both beautifully and exhaustively represented in a new expansion of the wasteland’s lore. Or perhaps it’s the comparatively glossier approach to the CGI and aesthetics that make Fury Road look like an ‘80s action classic that has held up over the years. It could also be the absence of a Nicholas Hoult (Nux in Fury Road) or Emil Minty (The Feral Kid in The Road Warrior), the hearts and souls of their respective films, unexpectedly roped into tales of vengeance.

But whatever the reasons may be for failing to meet what is the crème de la crème of action movies, it’s more than made up for by the vicious soundscapes that greet you once the desert meets Anya Taylor-Joy’s wrathful retribution. 

What Furiosa embodies is the tragic futility of revenge and the desperate, almost poignant struggle to forge purpose from the depths of hate and despair. 

Whereas Fury Road represented an event of colossal proportions, this one boasts a more inward reflection spoken through the wordless but universally understood language of blood-soaked violence and piercing, murderous eyes. In Furiosa’s quest to bring her mother justice, she faces a harsh wasteland so different from her own, ultimately finding herself trying to put meaning back into a meaningless world.

Split into five chapters, the film first gives us a glimpse of the Green Place of Many Mothers, one of the last havens for fresh water and agriculture. During a raid, a young Furiosa (the deservedly-praised Alyla Browne) is captured by Warlord Dementus (Chris Hemsworth). Not long after, Furiosa’s mother, Mary (Charlee Fraser), attempts a rescue, but is thwarted by the Bike Horde.

Over time, Furiosa finds herself in the Citadel and is imprisoned by Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme). As she escapes and integrates into Joe’s ranks, she eventually becomes a skilled warrior and forms a bond with Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke), sowing the seeds for her inevitable bout against Dementus once more.

It’s hardly a surprise that the story recalls Park Chan-wook’s vengeance trilogy, or even the Kill Bill films from Quentin Tarantino. It even hews closely to Lady Snowblood, a Japanese film about a daughter singularly driven by avenging her mother’s death. But where Furiosa sees its distinction is in the power struggle between the Immortan Joe’s War Boys and Dementus’ Biker Horde, which is then disrupted by a woman determined to defy the order imposed by these two warring factions.

Furiosa has tasted hope in a desolate world after growing up in a community that nurtures greenlands and water — a stark contrast to the cultists’ barren ambitions. She pirouettes through the masculine chaos, pocketing purity while also showing fully-fledged conflict when necessary. Both Taylor-Joy and Browne are one-of-a-kind in their portrayals. A genuine sliver of hatred occasionally slips out of their expressions, and you don’t doubt it for a second.

Surprisingly, Chris Hemsworth is the villain. If you weren’t paying attention to the cast billing, you would think this film was crafted as a talent vehicle for him. Always prattling but never overstaying his welcome, Dementus is a tantalizing foil, captivating for his surprising intelligence and his ruthless ingenuity in wriggling out of dire situations. It’s the performance Jason Momoa must’ve thought he was doing in Fast X, but this one makes that feel like a Nickelodeon skit.

Giving thrills are the war rig chases, anchored by the infinitely likable Tom Burke as Praetorian Jack. The constant barrage of engine failures and fire emergencies, paired with the risky maneuvering under, on top, on the side, and even out of the gasoline truck, evoked the spirit of an inimitable silent film — raucous and inventive, much like the gymnastics of Buster Keaton.

But going back to my original question, is viscerality too much to ask for in action? Because, while entertaining and propulsive, I found myself rewatching my favorite scenes from Fury Road (specifically, the biker attack scene) and sensing an instinctive difference that tips the scales in favor of a film that is now nine years old. 

Am I asking too much of Miller? Am I the fool in thinking there was reason to elevate even further from Fury Road, which was already born out of decades of sweat, tears, and rigorous imagination? One thing’s for certain: Furiosa, no matter how tangled my feelings are about its shortcomings, is a tremendous feat of action storytelling, not in spite of Fury Road, but because of it. – Rappler.com

‘Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’ is now showing in Philippine cinemas nationwide.

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Ryan Oquiza

Ryan Oquiza is a film critic for Rappler and has contributed articles to CNN Philippines Life, Washington City Paper, and PhilSTAR Life.