Cannes 2024 review: 'Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga' - An origin story worth telling?

Cannes 2024 review: 'Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga' - An origin story worth telling?

For many, watching Mad Max: Fury Road in 2015 was a jaw-on-the-floor affair, witnessing a modern blockbuster masterpiece which somehow managed to turbo charge the tension and themes within a high-octane dystopian ride. It left audiences with the question: How the fuck did they do that?

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, which premieres in Cannes this year, may leave viewers with a different question: Why the fuck did they do that?

Taking place years before Furiosa meets Max Rockatansky, Furiosa is an origin story that follows how our soon-to-be Wasteland badass is kidnapped from her utopian home in the Green Place by a marauding motorbike gang led by warlord Dementus (Chris Hemsworth). It all starts very promisingly, with Furiosa’s mother failing to rescue her, and witnessing the young child’s coming-of-age as a captive before she is reluctantly traded to Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme), in exchange for stewardship of Gas World. She is expected to grow in the Citadel into one of Joe’s wives, but she has other plans. Namely, revenge.

The film then time-jumps and switches actresses, from the note-perfect Alyla Browne to Anya Taylor-Joy. Furiosa is outwardly loyal to her captors but seeks to return to the “place of abundance”. When she is assigned a mission to ride alongside the legendary war-rig driver Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke), the possibility of escape (and retribution) arises.

First, the positives. Furiosa is a perfectly cast film and a visually arresting one. Anya Taylor-Joy is excellent as Furiosa, convincingly taking over from Charlize Theron - as is Alyla Browne, who gets a solid amount of screen time as the younger Furiosa in the film’s first hour. Both are completely convincing and make the transition between the prequel and 2015’s film feel seamless. Chris Hemsworth is also a blast to watch, as he has the time of his life as a pantomime villain with a luscious beard, false teeth and a prosthetic nose, as well as a bloodthirsty proclivity for dismembering his victims limb by limb via motorbike rallies. Everyone needs a hobby. The role allows Hemsworth to show off both his well-documented charisma as a performer, as well as the sense of comic timing he has perfected in the Marvel films. That said, his Looney Tunes take on the character does sometimes feel at odds with the rest of the cast.

As for the spectacle, it’s still as impressive, with DP Simon Duggan delivering the goods, especially for a few (less dominating) action sequences involving airborne attacks. The elaborate designs and vehicular choreographies still hit hard, but they seem to come at the expense of story and pace.

This leads to the disappointing realisation that Furiosa, at the end of the day, simply wasn’t needed and can’t hold a candle to its predecessor.

Granted, Miller set an impossibly high benchmark with Fury Road, which was set over three days; Furiosa spans over 15 years in five chapters. It is inextricably linked to its predecessor yet different in its storytelling scope, and necessarily so, as 2024’s vintage is more gasoline-soaked Bildungsroman than one extended car chase in three acts.

However, while the mythology is there in spades (we see the Green Place, Gas Town, the Bullet Farm – all places spoken of or merely glimpsed in Fury Road), the kinetic energy of the 2015 instalment isn’t replaced with anything that grabs your attention to the same degree. Much like the path Star Wars chose to tread with countless backstories and unnecessary focus on background details, the Mad Max saga now zones in on the early years. Did we need all of this world building, especially when part of the appeal was Fury Road ’s ambitious in medias res construction? Yes, Furiosa is a fascinating character, but as is often the case with enticing protagonists (and franchises), what is left unsaid or unseen often builds their appeal. Hannibal Lecter is much less frightening when you’re force fed the origins of his cannibalistic ways. Han Solo feels somehow less roguish when you learn how he got his name and his favourite blaster. And those musicians in the Star Wars canteen sound better when you don’t know they’re called Figrin D'an and the Modal Nodes and that they specialized in the "jizz" genre.

What’s most frustrating is that Furiosa’s origin story is fleshed out, yet the character study feels on-the-surface. The most noticeable casualty is the connection she forms with Praetorian Jack, a partnership that is suddenly there until it’s not, abandoned much like the teased showdown between Dementus and Immortan Joe, which is explained away with some handy voice over narration.

This leads to the impression that Miller was a bit too keen to info dump in an increasingly expanding world that benefits from some desert-like voids. But then again, if you’re the kind of Mad Max fan who aches to know about the connective tissue between warlords, then Furiosa will deliver the goods.

For all the bellyaching, massive plaudits still go to Miller for following up Fury Road and running with his pedal to the metal vision via a surprising slow-burn epic - which is a far cry from reviews gushing about how Furiosa is one of the greatest action opuses ever. It’s not, and while comparisons with Fury Road may be a bit unfair, they are inevitable - especially when we see clips of the 2015 film over the end credits. These only reminds you that Furiosa, for all its merits, serves one of those gap-filling graphic novels that shade in the blanks between films in a franchise. Fun for die-hard fans, but ultimately not that exhilarating, proving that some films don’t need an encore and that some characters don't deserve the disservice of an origin story.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga premiered Out of Competition in Cannes and hits cinemas worldwide on 24 May.