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'Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga' | George Miller Takes A Sad (Origin) Story And Makes It Better

He gives us another film filled to the brim with his fears and doubts about the world, and shrouds it in a blockbuster.
'Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.'

One of the most sublime things about George Miller’s Mad Max films are their maximalist and minimalist approaches unfolding simultaneously in front of our eyes and ears. There’s the persistent growls of engines, the booming gunshots and explosions, the meticulously choreographed action sequences where it’s near impossible to tell a practical effect from a visual effect, Tom Hulkenberg’s thunderous background score, characters in elaborate costume belting out of the most physical performance of their career – Miller’s films almost feel like sensory overload. 

On the flip side, A-list actors spend most of their screen-time grunting, glaring and uttering compact instructions as ‘dialogue’; the thread-bare narrative structure hinging on a single emotion – survival, vengeance etc, Miller’s films feel like a duel between these extreme approaches and the end product is a chaotic confluence of exceptional taste, while being almost singular in its experience. It might not be hyperbole to say that there isn’t quite anything like the Mad Max films, and there might never be. 

In Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga – Miller dives into the past of the character played by Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). A one-armed warrior with a shaved head and a permanent stop-wasting-my-time look, Theron’s character confidently took over the reins of a story that could have easily been dubbed as one in search of a ‘male saviour’. In a fabulous scene from the 2015 film, Theron takes the rifle out of the hands of Tom Hardy’s titular character and shoots down enemies far, far away. 

In Furiosa, we learn how the action hero found her ruthless efficiency. 

Born in “The Green Place” – one of the last remaining safe havens among wastelands after society has collapsed – an adolescent Furiosa (Alyla Browne) is abducted, when she tries to stop intruders from stealing. It springs into action a relentless, wordless chase sequence as Furiosa’s mother (Charlee Fraser) first rides a horse, and later improvises a bike (called Thunder Bird nonetheless). The chase leads her to a settlement of the domineering Dementus (Chris Hemsworth) – who is trying to cajole her young daughter to point in the direction of her home. 

Sporting a prosthetic nose and an “imperfect” body, Hemsworth – who has made a name for himself for his God-like features in the Marvel cinematic universe – appears to be having fun in his maiden role as an antagonist. While the rest of the cast members merely seem to be responding in monosyllables, Hemsworth’s Dementus delivers his lines at an operatic pitch – like he’s playing a Bond villain in his own head. Dementus is verbose, melodramatic, psychotic, but his villainy seems to be rooted in grief. He carries around a soft toy, which he says belonged to his girls before “they were taken”. During the film’s climax, Dementus screams “There is no hope!”, telling us that we’re dealing with a man so broken that he inflicts violence on the people around him and schemes his way to accumulating more power, to stop feeling his grief. The more one delves into the character of Dementus, the more one can feel Miller’s pity [not repulsion] for him. 

Tom Burke plays Jack – a veteran road warrior – who takes Furiosa under his wing when she’s sold off to Immortan Joe as a part of a negotiation. Burke is excellent, having the same gruff, effortless machismo that one would associate with Mel Gibson from earlier Mad Max films. In a dystopia, where niceties have been wiped out, it’s touching to see Jack and Furiosa share a moment – where Anya Taylor Joy’s Furiosa speaks for the first time. She feels safe with him. 

A still from ‘Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.’

Taylor Joy – who announced herself on the world stage with The Queen’s Gambit (2020) – has the less attractive role in the film. Furiosa still hasn’t become the action hero she is shown to be in Fury Road. Fuelled by rage, her survival instinct and a promise she made to her mother, Furiosa is simply looking to get by one day at a time. Taylor Joy is impeccable in bringing out a young Furiosa’s vulnerabilities, the steely determination, the way her eyes soften while looking at Jack, and establishing her own set of values in an anarchist world that sees her as meat, currency or an object to trade for something more ‘valuable’.  

Fury Road was the more potent, batshit blockbuster that became a reference point for filmmakers, studios, cinephiles. Furiosa isn’t nearly as relentless, but does that mean it’s a lesser film? It’s more expansive in scope, and tries to have a more nuanced dialogue about capitalism, environmental degradation, and the human beings’ ability to inflict perverseness. The climactic showdown between the protagonist and her sinner, is more self-aware than most of these scenes. The villain plays mind games with the anti-hero, telling her about the bottomless pit of revenge. But in a way he’s also telling her the truth realising he doesn’t have much longer to live.   

Furiosa might not have the novelty that Fury Road did, but it’s still a triumph of the imagination of the 79-year-old George Miller. He gives us another film filled to the brim with his fears and doubts about the world, and shrouds it in a blockbuster. In a time when franchises continue to cash in on the curiosity of the opening weekend box office, it’s nice to see Miller not take the easy way out. To paraphrase a song by The Beatles: Geroge Miller takes a familiar, sad (origin) story, and makes it better.

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