By Joshua McCormack

In the 2015 Best Picture Nominee, Mad Max: Fury Road, Charlize Theron played the film’s deuteragonist – arguably its true lead – Praetorian Furiosa, portraying the steely-eyed, tough-as-nails, desert wayfarer as she attempted to lead a group of women, unwilling brides of the post-apocalyptic dictator Immortan Joe, to freedom. Furiosa, helmed by Anya-Taylor Joy recalls the story of the heroine’s formative years in the hellish wasteland, the ordeals that tempered her resolve, and forged the iron persona that Theron brought to life.

On the whole, prequels are riddled with narrative pitfalls. For one, a lack of tension:

Audiences – who’ve presumably watched the original – know who appears in the next film, and thus shocker moments like character deaths, and improbable survivals are robbed of their power to seize an audience’s attention.

And this is a problem that George Miller – the director and one of the film’s writers – is forced to grapple with, and one which I believe he solves … but not without creating a more foundational problem: Furiosa is lost in her own movie.

But first, the film’s inciting incident. As a child, Furiosa lived in the Green Place, a fantastical Eden-like garden that had somehow survived the crucible of post-apocalyptic Australia’s desertification. She is kidnapped by Chris Hemsworth’s biker warlord, Dementus – cross between your stereotypical biker meathead and an over-brash, under-competent Jack Sparrow – who, after a thirty-minute back-and forth prologue which comes across as clanky and more than a bit contrived, kills her mother and takes her under his muscular wing.

Dead parents. Burning desire for revenge. A villain with a weird prosthetic nose grafted to their face. Where have I heard of this set up before?

Happily, Furiosa eschews its clichéd beginning before long, delivering a story that sees her rise through the ranks of the car-worshipping society, using her wits and ruthlessness to survive all the action scenes Miller throws her way, all while becoming embroiled in the brewing war between Immortan Joe and Dementus.

And this is where the film finds its strongest voice: in the world Miller weaves, the various factions he brings to life, a canvas on which he draws all manner of curious traditions, tense geopolitics, and fictional-world history.

Revenge and prequels are, separately, two of the most burned-out premises possible, combining the two was always a risk – especially given cinemagoers have ‘checked-out’ of franchises that are arguably far more beloved than Mad Max: Indiana Jones, the MCU – both of which suffered humiliations at the box-office in recent years. Sadly, current indications are that Furiosa is a historic bomb, but speaking from a narrative perspective, Miller’s word-building and the myriad of eccentric, scene-chewing side characters he brings to life succeeds in elevating the story beyond its base ingredients into an engaging tale, crammed with captivating details.

Hemsworth seems to enjoy his turn as villain, his swaggering, monologue-delivering Dementus is fun to watch, and it’s a pleasant change to see the actor breaking free of his typical solemn roles. But there are times, most egregiously near the end, when his dialogue devolves into biker-shakespeare that feels like he’d stumbled on set from the wrong film. A writing flaw that, but his mannerisms cleave to a similar pattern; when acting opposite the icy Immortan-Joe, the smouldering Furious, and the frowning Praetorian Jack, he is as incongruous as a bottle of tequila in a wine-tasting. Too explosive. Over-the-top.

Furiosa, as written in this story, barely has any dialogue and isn’t given much complexity – a difficult role for an actor to grapple with. But one which Joy succeeds at imbuing with a grim determination, and a narrow-eyed fury. Problem-solver, ruthless, and agile, she is a convincing action star, battling through the chaos of the road wars’ multi-stage battles. Frantic but composed. Furiosa becomes more tactical and cunning as the story progresses, learning how to operate in the inhospitable environment, and Joy is compelling in every stage of that evolution, her taciturn performance bolstered by the heavily contrasting characters she plays against.

It’s a fun film. Stunning cinematography, and excellent camera work. Where it falls short is the story which needed a less by-the-numbers motivation for Furiosa and a plot that made her the sun as opposed to a moon revolving around the major players – adjusting the story so she seized power of one of the cities, say Bullet Town, is one possible fix.

That being said, Fury Road wasn’t exactly high-art either; a mesmerising slice of action cinema that people remember for its stunt work and harsh visuals, not the relatively simple plot which served as the springboard for all the mayhem. In that department, Furiosa falls short due to its heavy use of CGI, when compared against the 2015 film. But given the glut of cgi-slurry that most blockbuster films are nowadays, you shouldn’t let that bother you: it is a visual feast and betrays few signs of greenscreen throughout its two-hours-and-twenty runtime.


Come for the awe-inspiring action, the marvellously mad world Miller spins, and characters that burst from the screen, but expect its story and characters to dissolve from your memory before long. Spectacle. Fun. A rollicking theme park of a movie.

4 Stars