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Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga ★★1/2

Availability: Showing widely in theaters; scheduled for streaming July 8 on Disney+; see JustWatch here for future streaming availability.


Road to Nowhere


George Miller’s enormously successful Mad Max action franchise takes a step backward with “Furiosa,” his prequel to the acclaimed 2015 “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Miller’s (and fellow Australian and co-writer Nick Lathouris) story is wafer thin, and his somewhat comic villain Dementus, played by action actor Chris Hemsworth, is poorly conceived. Anya Taylor-Joy (the on-the-spectrum chess player in TV’s “The Queen’s Gambit”) does her best to be a younger version of Charlize Theron in the title role, but Furiosa’s tough, silent, cold, and stoic bearing can be tedious. You’ll be longing for Mel Gibson, the original 1979 Max.

 

The somewhat comic villain Dementus, played by action actor Chris Hemsworth, is poorly conceived.

 


Dementus, Chris Hemsworth, right, is the new bad guy in town, taking on Furiosa (Anya Taylor-Joy), who gets minimal help from the faintest of love interests, Jack (Tom Burke), one of the few human-looking characters, and one who is quickly dispatched.


A problem with prequels is that one knows how they end. Furiosa’s goal is to return to the “Place of Abundance,” but she won’t make it. If she did, we wouldn’t have had “Mad Max: Fury Road,” featuring the older Furiosa trying to get home. Miller and Lathouris attempt to capitalize on the success of their 2015 film (some call it one of the best action films of all time) by employing many of the same characters, headed by Importan Joe (the prime villain of “Fury Road,” upstaged in “Furiosa” by Dementus) and his two icky sons, Ricktus Erectus and Scrotus (having fun with names yet?). The actors playing the secondary characters are mostly different from one film to another, since it doesn’t matter who plays these prosthetically-enhanced, caricatured grotesques. One doesn’t care a whit about them.


It doesn’t matter who plays these prosthetically-enhanced, caricatured

grotesques: Importan Joe (Lachy Hulme), center, with his sons Ricktus Erectus (Nathan Jones) and Scrotus (Josh Helman), left, and The People Eater (John Howard), right.



The plot in “Furiosa” gets a bit of juice from Dementus and Importan Joe taking each other on. Dementus is the new guy in town (i.e., the post-apocalyptic Wasteland), leading a nomadic biker horde with his 3-motorcycle chariot. (Can he be a real man if he’s only holding the reins, not astride a Harley?) Just as Furiosa seeks to avenge the torture and death of her mother, Dementus (like the Maxes before him) wants revenge for the killing of his “dear ones,” in memory of which he wears a teddy bear chained to his belt. Comic elements in a villain can work—witness The Joker—but Dementus’s comic side isn’t terrifying, it's just silly and a trifle pathetic. Miller tries to make him into something of a philosopher in the film’s last chapter, titled “Beyond Revenge,” but by then he’s hard to take seriously.

 

It may put 20-something males in the seats (as it did in our viewing), young (mostly white) males nostalgic for the days when men were men (Roman and Western motifs abound).

 

We’re left with action, and lots of it, a result of a $168 million budget. With “The Fall Guy,” it’s the summer of the stuntman—and woman. Action alone does not a great action movie make, especially when it’s so repetitive; still another white-faced guy throwing a spear from the fuel truck? This is no “Indiana Jones,” “The Matrix,” or “Kill Bill,” among others. It may put 20-something males in the seats (as it did in our viewing), young (mostly white) males nostalgic for the days when men were men (Roman and Western motifs abound), surviving the apocalypse with their low-tech mechanical skills, evoking a disappearing masculine work culture of machinery, pulleys, ropes, and risks; nostalgic for settler culture (fighting the marauding Indians on the Great Plains—or being them); nostalgic for combat, whatever the cause.


Much of the action comes from the biker horde, led by Dementus (Chris Hemsworth) with his 3-cycle chariot, evoking the Romans.


And if the hero is a heroine? Furiosa is mainly disguised as, and operates as, a man. When a possible love interest comes along (the only man besides Dementus who looks remotely human), he’s dispatched quickly. Exhale, you young white males. Among his several attempts to broaden the scope of his sometimes-humorous dystopia, Miller introduces possible multiple endings, though not as effectively as in last year’s “American Fiction.” Ultimately one is left with only male-focused action and a bare-bones story whose appeal is unfortunately limited.


The oil tanker under siege, repeatedly.


Miller reportedly has several other Mad Max scripts in process. Maybe he’s running out of steam, or steampunk. And maybe, as the early and disappointing box office numbers would suggest, those young while males are getting bored with trying to make America great again.

 

 

Date: 2024

Director: George Miller

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Anya Taylor-Joy

Country: Australia, United States

Language: English

Runtime: 148 minutes

Other Awards: None to date

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