The origin story of renegade warrior Furiosa before her encounter and team-up with Mad Max.

Expectations run high for overachievers. You see their work, you recognize their potential and once you witness just what they’ve capable of, your expectations rise even higher. Of course, that leads to a no-win situation in which the genius in question, having raised the bar so high with previous efforts, falls short of what’s anticipated. That our hopes were likely unrealistic often isn’t taken into consideration regarding our perception of it.

Such is the case with George Miller’s “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga,” a solid action epic that, while it manages to deliver a twisted story and the kinetic aesthetic we’ve come to expect from him, falls short of the ground-breaking effort the filmmaker delivered with “Mad Max: Fury Road.” To be clear: I liked “Furiosa,” a great deal of it actually, yet it requires an adjustment as this is as much a character study as an action epic. As such, the pacing is more deliberate, but the result is the most emotionally rich and poignant effort of the series.

As expected, Miller starts things off with a bang, giving us a cross country chase that ebbs and flows like the dunes of the Wastelands where the action takes place. Young Furiosa (Alyla Browne) has been kidnapped by two members of Dr. Dementus’ (Chris Hemsworth) horde. Having stumbled upon The Green Place, a secluded agrarian culture fashioned like a neo-Eden, they’ve snatched the girl, knowing they’ll get in the good graces of their boss when they turn her over to him. Her mother (Charlee Fraser) is in hot pursuit, yet her efforts will go for naught, as she ultimately falls at Dementus’ hands.

This sequence plays out over the first 25 minutes, Miller showing he hasn’t missed a step, this extended chase as gripping as anything he’s done before. Yet, the focus always remains on Furiosa. She’s raised by Dementus, ultimately traded to Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme) as part of a tenuous agreement between the two warring tribes and then blends into the work force of the Citadel by shaving her head and adopting the garb of a workman. Eventually, she’s given the job of driving a war rig, a role she’s already become accustomed to in “Fury Road.”

The skirmishes and double crosses that occur between Dementus and Immortan Joe provide Miller with the opportunity to stage the elaborate chase scenes he’s become known for. He doesn’t disappoint as each of these extended sequences are intricately choreographed and edited in a way that increases the action. Unlike so many filmmakers, Miller never moves the camera without purpose, coupling the swoops and glides he employs while cutting on the action. This technique, as well as occasionally speeding up the frame rate, are what separates his movies from other action fodder, the compounded energy of physical and cinematic movement distinctive from and superior to other approaches.

And while the thrills are present, they aren’t as plentiful as in “Road,” as Furiosa’s origin story is the tail that wags this multi-million-dollar epic. Anya Taylor-Joy takes over the role at the one-hour mark and it becomes evident why she was cast. With only approximately 30 lines of dialogue, her expressive eyes are vital in conveying all the character is going through, the actress employing them in myriad subtle ways. To be sure, she lacks the physical presence of Charlize Theron, who originated the role, yet you can’t take your eyes off her. Taylor-Joy manages to put her stamp on the role, bringing the proper intensity, rage, and pain to make her a sympathetic heroine.

Clocking in at nearly two and half hours, this is the longest entry in the franchise, and while it may feel bloated during the first viewing, that’s deceptive. The rhythm of the “Furiosa” is different from the other franchise entries, as it doesn’t rush headlong from one action scene to the next. More introspective and political, Miller and co-writer Nick Lathouris examine the social hierarchy of this decimated world as well as the economic machinations that allow it to function. In making the connection as to how these factors impact the lives of the survivors, this proves to be a more layered, densely rendered work.

That’s not to say it is ever boring.  These aspects are explored with humor and wit, Hemsworth bringing a buffoonish touch to Dementus that brilliantly counters Immortan Joe’s intensity. Ironically, his final scene proves the most dynamic, as he laments how the dog-eat-dog-world they live in has made he and Furiosa of the same sort, a genuinely moving moment. Also surprising is the presence of Tom Burke as Praetorian Jack, a Mad Max stand-in who Furiosa makes the mistake of caring for, a luxury no one is afforded in this cruel world.

A more character driven approach as well as the current state of global affairs, make “Furiosa” not only the most moving of the “Max” films but potentially the most prescient. To be sure, Miller’s vision regarding the future state of our physical world as well as the barbaric nature of its survivors is fantastic. Likely, “Furiosa” will resonate more with viewers now and in years to come than any of the others in the series, as what it portends may come to be if we continue to ignore the problems we face. Therein lies the power of Miller’s vision, as his cautionary tales become increasingly plausible with every passing year.

3 1/2 Stars


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