Furiosa Is a Glorious Apocalyptic Epic From Mad Max Director George Miller

More philosophical and more Shakespearean than Fury Road, it's another ambitious action extravaganza.


The last time filmmaker George Miller dipped into the Mad Max universe, in 2015, he gave us Fury Road, a roaring, rumbling, rowdy epic of vehicular mayhem that wasn't just the best action movie of the 2010s but the best movie of that decade, period. 

Yes, there are other contenders, but no other picture released during that span matched Fury Road's combination of ambition, originality, exuberance, and thematic heft. There was a silent-film purity to its story, which was essentially just a chase scene extended and elaborated to feature length. And there was a frantic intensity to its cascading setpieces: The non-stop action sequences and stuntwork seemed almost impossible, even as you watched them on screen, prompting other filmmakers to wonder just how the hell it was made. Two years after the movie came out, Steven Soderbergh looked back on the film with awe: "I don't understand how [George Miller] does that," he told The Playlist. "I really don't, and it's my job to understand it. I don't understand two things: I don't understand how they're not still shooting that film and I don't understand how hundreds of people aren't dead." George Miller, who was 70 when the movie came out, was obviously insane, and so was Fury Road.

If nothing else, it was the only movie of that decade—or any, for that matter—to prominently feature a blind guy suspended by wires from a speaker-packed semi-truck playing a guitar that was also a flamethrower. The guitar guy wasn't just an exercise in post-apocalyptic absurdity, either: In an interview with The New Yorker, Miller said he knew the character's entire backstory, how he ended up in his bizarre situation, and watching the movie you can sense this level of world-building in every maniac frame. There was a strange coherence to the movie's madness, a depth of detail that few films could ever match. 

Nearly a decade later, Miller, now 79, is back with Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga. It's a direct prequel to Fury Road, built around the childhood backstory of the prior film's pivotal character, Imperator Furiosa. Miller's latest is nearly as ambitious as Fury Road, and if anything, the world-building is denser and richer, delving into the governance and social structures of the franchise's brutal Wasteland. But it works at a different pitch than its predecessor. The action, although still formidable, is less relentless, the narrative more sprawling and more operatic. It's more philosophical, more Shakespearean, at least in the sense that a movie featuring a 15-minute sequence in which a biker gang tries to overtake a semi-truck using makeshift hang-gliders can be Shakespearean. Even at its most feverish, Furiosa is a somber reflection on what has to happen to end up with a movie like Fury Road

When we first meet young Furiosa, she's in the Green Place, a utopian society hidden from the hazards of the dusty wastes that surround it. But she's kidnapped and taken to a raider encampment led by Dementus (Chris Hemsworth), a boastful, voluble warlord who presides over several gangs of fractious unruly bikers. As Dementus, Hemsworth is a hoot, a preening, prideful, post-apocalyptic politician who aspires to vast power but can barely keep order amongst his thugs. He's a clever twist on the warlord characters the franchise has conjured up for decades, a reminder that power born of violence is often weak. Dementus also has a sentimental side, as evidenced by the teddy bear he keeps strapped to his cape, so it's no surprise that he keeps young Furiosa as a sort of daughter, sort of pet, locked up in a cage along with his dogs and his soothsayer, History Man.

History Man is just one of the movie's many, many weird and whimsical characters, along with wasteland freaks like Pissboy, the Octoboss, and the Organic Mechanic, plus some returning bizarros like Immortan Joe and Rictus Erectus. Most of these characters are repulsive in some way, but as with Guitar Guy, Miller treats them as fully formed characters. They're disgusting, horrible, creatures, barely-human products of a turgid environment but they all have a reason for being—even if it's just, as in Pissboy's case, to pour urine on burning vehicles. Don't ask me to explain. Part of the movie's genius, and Miller's, is that all of this makes perfect sense in context. 

The context, in this case, is a land ravaged by violence and greed. Like Miller's seminal Mad Max movie, 1982's The Road Warrior, Furiosa explains the apocalypse with brief montage depicting a kind of mega-crisis, in which the civilized world we know is felled by multiple catastrophes: political dysfunction, nuclear war, environmental despoilation, and so on. It doesn't matter what happened, really, so long as you understand that humans wrecked the beautiful, abundant earth. 

Humans—but mostly men. As with Fury Road, there's a distinctive feminist undertone to FuriosaThe leaders of the three fortresses that serve as the Wasteland's system of authoritarian governance are all cruel men who surround themselves with other cruel men eager to escalate their brutality. If you think modern boys and men are struggling now, just wait until the apocalypse

The peaceful Green Place where the movie's heroine grows up is, among other things, a place where women are safe from male predation. After Furiosa is taken, she's traded amongst warlords, and only achieves a measure of independence by shaving her head and pretending to be a boy. The Wasteland's brutal vision of gender relations makes today's dating apps look positively benign. 

But Furiosa isn't so much a gender theory seminar as it is a glorious, vengeful epic of hope and hate, sorrow and anger, revenge and revitalization, anger and acceptance, told as only George Miller can. It might lack the raw force of Fury Road—it probably won't be the movie of the decadebut it's imbued with a profound and pensive sense of poetry.

One of the first lines of dialogue in the film is a question, posed to the audience: "As the world falls around us, how must we bear its cruelties?" Perhaps, like Furiosa, you seek long-delayed revenge against the man who destroyed your enviable and innocent childhood. Or perhaps you pick up a guitar that is also a flamethrower. For those of us still thankfully living in a pre-apocalyptic world, well, you can just sit back and thank the stars that a brilliant old man like George Miller is, somehow, still making Mad Max movies.