Monday, May 27, 2024

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga. A Review



Mad Max: Fury Road is beloved on Film Twitter/X, held as some kind of turning point for cinema. I would call it the action movie approved by film nerds. While I gave Fury Road a positive review, I have not seen it since that first time. Moreover, I now feel that I was essentially bullied into giving Fury Road a positive review, almost like it was a requirement to hail it as this unimpeachable masterpiece. That second look is for another day. Instead, let us look on Furiosa, the prequel that tells the origin story of one of Fury Road's characters. Furiosa is not a horrible film, but I will not be pushed to lavish it with praise. Longer than it should be, at times boring, Furiosa never makes its case that this character is worth our time.

Split into five parts, Furiosa covers the early years of this character. Little Furiosa is a child living in the Place of Abundance until a group of marauding bikers comes upon it. They abduct her when she tries to raise the alarm, but her mother Mary (Charlee Fraser) manages to hear it and pursue the abductors. Fleeing from the Green Place into the Wasteland, Mary does manage to free her daughter but is herself captured. The leader of our biker gang, Dr. Dementus (Chris Hemsworth) kills Mary in front of Furiosa. He also takes her on as his unofficial daughter (though I did wonder if she was meant to be a child bride for him).

Dementus wants power, and he is able to force the powerful Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme) into submission. While his plans to overthrown Immortan Joe fail, he at least is able to take control of Gastown as its ruler, a vassal for Immortan Joe. He also is forced in exchange for control of Gastown to surrender Furiosa, who will be added to Immortan Joe's harem. One of his sons, however, takes a liking to our tween female, but she manages to escape and hide in plain sight as a mute male.

Now, Furiosa (Anya Taylor-Joy) focuses her attention to avenge herself against Dementus. She gets help from Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke), one of Immortan Joe's henchmen impressed by her war skills. Becoming her mentor, she and Praetorian Jack work to destroy Dementus, who is crippling Gastown and Immortan Joe's control of it through his incompetence. However, Dementus has plans of his own to overthrow Immortan Joe. Will Praetorian Jack and Furiosa survive to destroy Dementus and for Furiosa to find her way, metaphorically and literally, through the Wasteland?

As I watched Furiosa, I realized that at heart, prequels have a problem. No matter how often you put your title characters in danger, you know that they will survive. If they didn't, you would not have the movie where the characters began. You can have a prequel that works, such as Rogue One, because there the focus is on new characters building to the familiar situation, not to the characters themselves. Perhaps that is a reason why the Star Wars prequels of The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith are flawed. No matter where Anakin Skywalker lands, we the audience know that he will survive, or we wouldn't have Star Wars (or A New Hope). You can't kill Anakin off before he shifts into Darth Vader, so even in the most seemingly dangerous situations, he'll be all right.

As a side note, I said "A reason". There is a myriad of reasons why the Star Wars prequels do not work, but that is for another day.

Like the Star Wars prequels, Furiosa opted to tell an origin story to this particular character. However, Furiosa is wildly miscalculated on many levels. First, I do not know if there was that much interest in the character from Fury Road to have people wait almost ten years to get one. Was she that interesting as to merit her early years chronicled? Second, for a film about Furiosa, we hardly get much of her. The first hour of this two-and-a-half-hour film is mostly about Dementus to where someone walking in a few minutes late might have thought the title was Dementus. Once we get to the third section, The Stowaway, I had pretty much forgotten Furiosa was even in the film.

Third, there is no justification for Furiosa being two and a half hours long. You could have cut down the punishing first two sections (The Pole of Inaccessibility and Lessons from the Wasteland) into at most a fifteen-minute section. All the political machinations of Dementus and Immortan Joe with Joe's sons Scrotus and Rictus Erectus (dear God, those names) is really boring and uninteresting to what should be Furiosa's origins. Furiosa is hardly a Furiosa origin story. My mind wandered a bit into wondering what ever happened to Furiosa's sister Valkyrie. Did those in the Green Place just say, "Well, your Mum and sister are gone, so good luck to you"? Director and cowriter George Miller (writing with Nick Lathouris) introduced this character and forgot about her. I hope she wasn't being held back for a sequel to a prequel. 

We now go to the performances. I have heard that Anya Taylor-Joy has 30 lines in Furiosa. I kept my own count, and I found a more generous number: 49 lines, though I did count one-word utterances as lines. I might have also split a sentence into two, raising the overall number. Little Furiosa (Alyla Brown) had eight lines that I counted. That means that, using my count, the title character had 57 lines altogether.

That is 57 lines. For the title character. In a two-and-a-half-hour film. It should be noted that we do not hear Furiosa speak until 15 minutes into the film. 

As Furiosa is not focused around Furiosa, we can pretty much skip Anya Taylor-Joy's performance. It was not a bad performance, and every so often we saw glimpses of what could have been. Her final confrontation against Dementus was not bad, though like much of Furiosa drawn out. 

Perhaps I can praise Hemsworth in saying that he devoured the scenery like an orphan from a Charles Dickens novel. I do not consider Hemsworth an actual actor, so I won't say he gave a performance here. I will say that he was so manically over-the-top that he seemed almost crazed. Granted, that was the role, so I cannot fault him for being gonzo in Furiosa. Still, it was pretty hammy, so take that as you will. It, perhaps, takes a certain skill to play calm when you've had your nipples ripped off. 

I understand that Burke is supposed to be a major character as Praetorian Jack, but I barely remember him. Take that as you will too.

Now, there are some good parts in Furiosa. The costumes were clever (one suit was made out of bullets). The music was not bad either. So, there are some good things in the film, I suppose. 

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga had very little to recommend it, apart from a near-fanatical devotion to Fury Road among cinema intelligentsia. If I can say one positive about it, however, it is that at least it's better than Argylle


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