On the Road Again — Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

William J Hammon
11 min readJun 1, 2024


I’ve said plenty of times before that I’m a fan of the Mad Max series (Fury Road is in my Top 100 of the 2010s for the fire guitar guy alone), and in how director George Miller expertly orchestrates his world-building. Sometimes the exposition and spectacle are way over the top, while other times he gives only the minimum amount of information necessary to get the point across, trusting his audience to fill in the gaps for themselves to customize their degree of entertainment. The reason the last installment was so epic was because he balanced both extremes, giving us a bare bones tale with just enough pathos and character development to get us interested, supplemented by an insane degree of visual wonder, mostly done through practical on-set effects. Tom Hardy in the title role and Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa led a fully committed cast in a series of pantheon performances that understood the value of maximizing their limited stories and motivations. It was damn near perfect.

Building on that success, Miller went straight to work on a spinoff project focusing on the instantly beloved badass driver with a robotic arm. After years in Development Hell and salary disputes with Warner Bros., he was finally able to construct the origin story for this compelling heroine. And while Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga doesn’t quite rise to the level of its predecessor (the title alone is a bit clunky), there are few films that can. With an almost impossibly high bar to clear, it would be a marvel if the film even came close to matching that masterpiece, and thankfully, it definitely does.

Initially set about 20 years before the events of Fury Road, the film is divided into chapters, essentially serving as textbook lessons for survival in the dystopian Australian Wasteland (a fun zoom in shot from space opens the proceedings). In a relatively small oasis community in the middle of the Outback, we find child Furiosa (Alyla Browne before Anya Taylor-Joy takes over; I’ll address this in a bit), along with her sister Valkyrie (Dylan Adonis) picking fruit in the woods, their little strip of land among the few “places of abundance” left on the continent. Furiosa spies a group of marauding bikers killing and chopping up a horse for food, and decides to sneak up on them to sabotage their motorcycles. She’s captured in the process, causing her mother Mary Jabassa (Charlee Fraser) to pursue. Not only must she rescue her daughter, she must kill the entire gang, as no one can know about their home, lest it be invaded and destroyed.

Across the vast desert, Furiosa is taken to the encampment of the marauder horde, led by a warlord called Dementus (an absolutely fantastic Chris Hemsworth), who vacillates between benevolence and psychotic murder at the drop of a hat. Dressed unironically like Jesus Christ himself. he tells Furiosa that she will be rewarded beyond measure if she leads him to her home, and even arranges for what passes for luxury accommodations while she considers her answer, all while dangling the last kidnapper upside down in hopes of getting the information out of him before he chokes to death on his own blood. After Mary’s attempts to save her child are unsuccessful, Furiosa remains caged in Dementus’ ranks (literally, she sits in a cage pulled by one bike while Dementus rides in a fantastic makeshift chariot pulled by three other bikes linked together) as he scoops up followers from defeated gangs and makes a siege on the Citadel run by the last film’s big baddie, Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme standing in for the late Hugh Keays-Byrne). When Dementus sees a demonstration of Joe’s power and influence, he instead takes over Gastown at the other end of Fury Road and bargains for an administrative position, giving Furiosa to Joe as a future wife/brood sow in exchange. From there Furiosa escapes the harem and lies low, posing as a scrawny mute boy with a knack for mechanics until she can seek her revenge.

There are so many wonderful things to applaud in this picture, it’s hard to know where to begin. As I said, Chris Hemsworth is absolutely incredible as Dementus. We’ve seen him as the conquering hero so many times thanks to his tenure as Thor, but it really is refreshing to see him play a villain. It’s a fun change of pace to play against type, and he revels in the freedom that the role gives him to just go batshit. He’s funny, charismatic, ruthless, cunning, deadly, and oddly insightful in his spree of blood-spattered madness, displaying a range that we don’t often get to see, mostly because his other work (particularly with Marvel) by design doesn’t allow it. Even without him alluding to a tragic backstory, you can see a morbid apathy in his performance, broken by the cruelty of the world and consumed by a mixture of nihilism and chaste hedonism (he enjoys the pleasures of his position, but unlike Immortan Joe he doesn’t really sexualize anything). He is a man without scruples or emotional attachment to anything, but still pursues his ambitions with a passion that would seem contradictory in less capable hands. Furiosa may get the headlines, but just like our lead in her last outing, Hemsworth playing a side part commands the most attention.

By contrast, Anya Taylor-Joy delivers a master class in how to get the most mileage out of a silent, physical performance. She does talk, of course, mostly when she’s training with Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke), building a friendship while learning how to drive the rig, but a good deal of her time on screen has absolutely no dialogue. Part of this is out of her character’s survival instinct, as she can’t let on she’s a woman while she rises through the ranks at the Citadel. But an even larger part is just pure intensity and strength of will. So much is conveyed through knowing glances, body language, and stares from her absolutely hypnotic eyes. Her physical prowess in certain situations may push up against that line of suspension of disbelief, because we never really see her be taught any of these skills, but by the time you notice it, the adrenaline has been kicked up so far that you don’t care. All of this adds up to her becoming a perfect foil for Dementus, even though she doesn’t share that much screen time with him in adult form. He’s bombastic while she’s stoic. He goes for instant gratification while she bides her time waiting for the right opportunity. He has no regard for human life, but she does despite an equal level of lethality. He literally screams at her that there is no hope while she desperately clings to it, even though we know from the events of the last film that he’s largely right.

I also enjoyed the bits of information that supplement what we learned nine years ago. A lot was left up to our imaginations, which is great, but learning the truth after so long has value as well. It’s helpful to see the Green Place in its pre- Fury Road splendor, because it lets the audience know what was truly lost. It’s fun to see the Bullet Farm and Gastown as functioning infrastructure rather than distant landmarks, aiding our understanding of just how comprehensive Joe’s grip on the Citadel was. It’s interesting to flesh out characters that we only saw as moving pieces before, giving us a hint of their motivations. In this way, the film lives up to its title by turning an exemplary but simple chase movie into an actual saga with accompanying lore. This is one of the few times where making a prequel really does provide a more complete understanding of the world these people inhabit, instead of just being fan service. And even then, there are still ample teases for the viewer to sort out in their own mind, like how Furiosa’s metal arm actually works, what really drives the War Boys to become willing cannon fodder, or why someone like Dementus wouldn’t just burn Gastown as a power move. Much is explained without pandering, and mysteries still abound.

The real fan service is in the production values and staffing. Returning from last time are Miller’s wife Margaret Sixel to lead the editing, Jenny Beavan for the costuming, co-writer Nico Lathouris, and Tom Holkenborg composing the score. The rapid zoom and pan techniques used in Fury Road are once again employed here, as is Miller’s decision to cut random frames during the more fast-paced sequences to give the scenes a more frenetic and chaotic feel. The lighting and color schemes are just as dazzling and gorgeous as in Fury Road, with a little more emphasis on detail in the more intimate spaces. The chase scenes are still a jaw-dropping feast of practical and digital effects working in tandem to create a grand illusion.

There are exactly two disappointments I had with this movie, and while they don’t doom the project by any means, they are worth mentioning. The first is in relation to the visuals themselves. You can definitely tell that there was more CGI this time out, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but given the scale of the undertaking here, it does become more and more noticeable, especially if you watch in a larger format like IMAX. For example, early on, when Mary learns of Furiosa’s abduction, she mounts her horse and begins pursuit. As Fraser walks towards the background of the shot, you can pinpoint the exact frame where the actress disappears and an animated model jumps on the steed. There are moments like this littered throughout the proceedings.

But the worst offense in this regard is with Furiosa herself. As the early bits played out, I found myself fascinated with Alyla Browne as the youngest version of Furiosa. It wasn’t that her performance was anything all that special, but I was floored by how much she looked like a young Anya Taylor-Joy. I was amazed that Miller and his team found an actress so similar as to be a dead ringer in the body of a 10-year-old.

And then I noticed a slight glitch on her nose.

Yup, this was AI. You never truly see Alyla Browne in this film, at least, not her face. Artificial Intelligence art was used to capture Taylor-Joy’s features and graft them onto Browne in post. Had I known this before I bought my ticket, I would have seriously considered not going. As the credits rolled, I was actually happy that the stunt cast was almost as expansive as the VFX team, and then I saw a separate listing for the AI group, and my heart sank. I looked it up later, and sure enough, my fears were confirmed.

I’m willing to give Miller a slight benefit of the doubt here, because this project had been in the works long before the controversy, but on principle it’s just wrong. This technology is an existential threat to the industry and to true artists like Miller himself, so I can’t see why it would be used here. It also doesn’t make much sense, as you’ve already cast Anya Taylor-Joy as a slightly younger version of the character played by Charlize Theron, and they look nothing alike. Surely no one would care that the pint-sized version didn’t look all that much like her, either. If this was such a concern, why not just have Theron reprise the role and use standard de-aging effects? I don’t get it. Anyway, once I was able to see what was going on, young Furiosa was hurled directly into the Uncanny Valley, and every moment she was on screen was noticeably off. In a weird way, it’s a good thing that she’s a largely silent protagonist for the child’s time on screen, because speaking up would only draw more attention to it (to say nothing for the fact that Browne speaks with a mild Aussie accent while Taylor-Joy employs her usual hybrid British-American).

This segues nicely into the other main flaw, which is that youngest version of the title character. Anya Taylor-Joy gets top billing here, as well she should, but if you set the AI aside, she doesn’t appear until 65 minutes in, nearly half the runtime. The entire first hour-plus is spent on the child, and she really doesn’t do all that much, largely serving as a background player in her own story. Alyla Browne doesn’t give a terrible performance, per se, she’s just there, an observer to most of the action like us in the crowd.

The few times she does take initiative, she’s making mistakes, and the film never really acknowledges this. She gets kidnapped because she decides to stop the bikers in the Green Place herself, rather than just scurrying to the adults like Valkyrie does moments later, allowing the more skilled to take out the threats with a bit more stealth. She’s rescued by Mary, who then sends her home to warn the others, but as soon as Furiosa sees her mom in danger, she runs right back into Dementus’ waiting arms. If she just does what she’s told, there’s a chance her people are saved and her mother’s sacrifice isn’t in vain.

Now, obviously, this can be explained away by the fact that she’s a kid and not really in a position to make the most rational of decisions. And seeing what happens to the Green Place and her people in Fury Road, you can even argue that her fate was inevitable. I’m perfectly fine with that. But if so, address it. Give her that moment of self-reflection. Dementus and Joe are both incarnate forms of evil, but a significant part of Furiosa’s suffering is of her own doing. Let her explore that. Let her come to terms with her past. Let her grieve, heal, cope, and push forward with resolve to right what went wrong. It only makes her character that much more relatable, and it justifies the insane amount of time we spend with her in this stage of her life.

“Do you have it in you to make it epic?” asks Dementus in one of the film’s best scenes. Clearly, the answer is yes, both for the character of Furiosa and George Miller in his desire to flesh out this living embodiment of kicking ass and taking names. Furiosa, for the most part, pays proper service to the true meaning of “saga” while giving the audience another ride for the ages. It has a few bumps, but nothing that would ultimately derail the proceedings. In a world of fire and blood, it’s reassuring that there are still people out there willing to fight the good fight, be it for a hopeful future or just the art of storytelling.

Grade: A-

Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? Do you think you could survive in the Wasteland? Can you believe this almost lost the box office to Garfield? Let me know! And remember, you can follow me on Twitter (fuck “X”) and YouTube for even more content, and check out the entire BTRP Media Network at btrpmedia.com!

Originally published at http://actuallypaid.com on June 1, 2024.



William J Hammon

All content is from the blog, “I Actually Paid to See This,” available at actuallypaid.com