'Mad Max' tears through Cannes with frenetic 'Furiosa'

'Furiosa' drew a lengthy standing ovation inside the packed Palais des Festivals in Cannes (Loic VENANCE)
'Furiosa' drew a lengthy standing ovation inside the packed Palais des Festivals in Cannes (Loic VENANCE)

"Furiosa", the latest frenetically paced "Mad Max" action movie, zoomed into pole position among this year's blockbusters with a raucous world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday.

The fifth instalment of the wildly popular post-apocalyptic saga received a special screening outside of the main Palme d'Or competition at the world's most famous movie festival.

"Thanks so much for having us," said a visibly moved director, George Miller, as his film drew a lengthy standing ovation inside the packed Palais des Festivals.

Furiosa is the name of the heroine first played by Charlize Theron in the franchise's previous entry, 2015's Oscar-winning "Mad Max: Fury Road."

In this prequel, she is now portrayed by Anya Taylor-Joy, of hit Netflix series "The Queen's Gambit". She is opposite "Thor" star Chris Hemsworth in a villainous role.

As with all the "Mad Max" films, road battles and visceral stunts play a vital role, with a plethora of retro-futuristic vehicles meting out death and destruction at high speed in the desert.

The movie -- released globally next week -- was inspired by the question "How can we tell a story on the run?" explained Miller.

Stunts are "pure cinema for me," he told journalists before the world premiere.

"I like to say that you should hear films with your eyes, and you should see them with your ears," he said.

"When you're seeing the rhythm of choreographed action, you feel a beat to it."

The warrior's younger years are revealed in "Furiosa".

She is kidnapped as a child, and forced to plot her escape from the harem of a neo-Medieval despot.

Alyla Browne ("Three Thousand Years of Longing") portrays a child version of the heroine, before Taylor-Joy takes over as a fearsome young adult warrior who is as adept behind the wheel as she is deadly with a rifle.

Hemsworth dons heavy prosthetics for his role as a barbarian clan leader, in a film that is part revenge movie, part dystopian sci-fi, complete with themes of ecological collapse -- and feminism.

- 'Feminist' -

The premiere at the glitzy festival on France's Côte d'Azur takes place as the country is in the midst of a belated #MeToo reckoning, including accusations against its biggest star, Gerard Depardieu.

Miller explained that "Furiosa", like "Fury Road" before, ended up becoming "almost a feminist piece" by chance.

A story featuring a male hero freeing enslaved wives from a harem would have been "a different story than a female warrior", he said.

"It wasn't, 'oh, 'let's make a feminist action film,' it was always driven by story."

Yet Miller has a track record in writing increasingly formidable female characters.

In the first "Mad Max" film, Joanne Samuel's role -- the wife of Mel Gibson's hero -- was mainly that of the victim.

By "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome," the third film, from 1985, Tina Turner played a ruthless clan leader governing a town.

- 'Handbrake turn' -

That mantle of fearsome female road warrior falls now to Taylor-Joy -- now 28, who has admitted that, in real life, she still does not have a drivers' licence.

Nonetheless, she was encouraged by Miller to do as many of her own stunts as possible.

She trained for a year before production began on the set, where she was joined by a stunt double.

"I know how to do a handbrake turn, but I don't know how to... drive on the highway," she joked, in the film's production notes.

"I've never been very comfortable on a bike, so finding myself on a motorcycle overnight was a real leap into the unknown."