“Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” Review: Anya Taylor-Joy Takes the Wheel in a Powerhouse Prequel

Chris Hemsworth plays a warlord in director George Miller's thrilling post-apocalyptic fantasy

<p>Warner Bros. Pictures</p> Anya Taylor-Joy

Warner Bros. Pictures

Anya Taylor-Joy

You may have been among the millions of people who loved 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road, starring Charlize Theron as a gloriously gnarly post-apocalyptic heroine named Furiosa.

But in the years since, while you happened to be rinsing lettuce leaves, googling old high school rivals or settling down for a nap, did you ever find yourself wondering: “What was Furiosa’s backstory? What was up with that missing arm?”

Probably not. And yet this prequel, directed by Mad Max maestro George Miller, answers those questions with such wild, visionary invention, you’re grateful and — as with Theron’s film — thrilled that someone in Hollywood cared to make you care.

A great movie, and this is one, can satisfy an emotional hunger you didn’t know you had.

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Furiosa, which stars Anya Taylor-Joy in the title role, is far more grandiose and maybe also stranger than its predecessor. Fury Road’s blunt, head-on narrative has given way to a more episodic structure and an emphasis, much like that in the Dune franchise, on immense world-building.

The difference is that Dune, for all its desert landscapes, comes with a dusting of high, exotic civilization, like sugar on a very dry donut. Furiosa is a roaring death-metal fantasy set in a steampunk wasteland of desperate, vicious survivors, many of them grotesque mutants who suggest a circus troupe of killer clowns. It’s fueled by primal hunger, anger, hate and revenge.

And, at 2 hours and 28 minutes, it can come close to wiping you out.

The only consoling spot of beauty is at the very start: A rare, Edenic apple is plucked from its branch by a 10-year-old Furiosa (Alyla Browne). Half an hour later — after a spectacular, breathless string of action scenes — she’s trapped in the despotic company of the warlord Dementus. He’s played by Chris Hemsworth with a large prosthetic nose (it appears to have been borrowed from a Lord of the Rings troll) and a facetious humor that, in the long run, means he’s probably enjoying his performance more than you are.

<p>Jasin Boland</p> Anya-Taylor Joy, Tom Burke and Chris Hemsworth

Jasin Boland

Anya-Taylor Joy, Tom Burke and Chris Hemsworth

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Taylor-Joy doesn’t show up as the grownup Furiosa for nearly a full hour, and even then she has very little dialogue — the role is practically silent. But that’s not a surprise in a Mad Max film, and it doesn’t matter. (Would you have been happier if Aaron Sorkin had written the script?)

The actress’s enormous eyes serve as high beams that pierce through all the dirty chaos. By the end her performance connects almost seamlessly with Theron’s: They’re badass goddesses.

Under more genteel circumstances, the film might be described as a story of education, something like David Copperfield but with endless explosions, chases, fires, maimings and murders. Furiosa experiences nonstop cruelty as she moves from one hellish compound to another, but she learns, adapts, fights and prevails. She enthralls.

Furiosa is in theaters now.

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