Stereoactive Presents: ‘Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’ // a movie review

George Miller delivers perhaps the most complex installment of the Mad Max series yet.

Stereoactive Presents: ‘Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’ // a movie review
Anya Taylor Joy in 'Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga'

This review is available to watch on YouTube:

Of course, you can still listen to the show on Goodpods, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and anywhere else you listen to podcasts.

J. McVay reviews George Miller’s Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Since its release in 2015, Mad Max: Fury Road has moved close to the top of many, if not most, lists of the greatest action films ever made. So, it was never going to be an easy feat to create a film that could be viewed as a worthy follow up to such an accomplishment.

Of course, throughout his career, director George Miller has proven that he is anything but averse to challenges. After all, it took him two or three decades to finally get Fury Road made, depending on which point in the early gestation of the project you start counting from. So, at least as far as time is concerned, bringing Furiosa to screens less than a decade after the previous film could be viewed as a sign the process was at least a bit smoother this go-round.

That said, reports on the production of Fury Road make it pretty clear that it would be hard to outdo the difficulty of that past endeavor. Again, though, Miller is anything but averse to challenges and in Furiosa, against the odds, he has managed to create a work that rivals his masterpiece.

In terms of story and theme, Furiosa vastly deepens Fury Road. Part of the way it does this is that it takes a sort of incidental, yet incredibly important, element of previous entries in the franchise and moves it more front and center, thematically, than it's ever been before. As much as Furiosa is about the backstory of its title character, previously played by Charlize Theron – played here by Anya Taylor Joy and Alyla Browne – it’s also about the importance of storytelling itself.

With that in mind, it makes a certain sense that, unlike other Mad Max films, this one features delineated chapters with titles telegraphing what’s to come and imbuing the internal plotting and characters with a sense of thoughtful importance. The key to this meta-element of the film’s storytelling about storytelling is a climactic scene between Furiosa and her antagonist, Dementus, played expertly against type by Chris Hemsworth.

“Do you have it in you to make it epic?” he goads her.

And perhaps this is an oblique comparison, but it immediately made me think of the scene in Steven Spielberg’s The Fablemans when that film’s protagonist got this sage advice from one of his filmmaking heroes, John Ford, about how to frame a shot:

“When the horizon’s at the bottom, it’s interesting. When the horizon’s at the top, it’s interesting. When the horizon’s in the middle, it’s boring as shit.”

The point of both, within the context of their respective films, is that approaching something straight on may get the job done, but it’s often not the most fulfilling way to go. In the world of Mad Max, especially as envisioned in Furiosa and Fury Road, self-mythology is a means of survival. For the big bads of this post-apocalyptic world, self-mythology helps them to maintain power by giving their underlings something to strive toward and buy into. For the tentative heroes, though, it offers some small yet crucial avenue toward freedom.

If, as the so-called History Man tells Furiosa early on in the movie, making yourself invaluable to those you are forced to serve is important for self-preservation, the message she receives from Dementus about making it “epic” is her key to becoming invaluable. It’s her way of tapping into the power of self-mythology that her vicious boss, Immortan Joe has fostered. If she can build herself into an epic figure, so good at her given job that she must be relied on regardless of how much incidental trouble she may carry with her, then she can survive her current low status long enough to find a way toward her inevitable goals, as depicted in Fury Road.

But the History Man is not only a giver of sage advice; he is also the narrator of the story we’re seeing on screen. In this way, we the audience are made a part of the film, essentially cast as silent listeners taking in his tale from some future time. This is not the first time the franchise has used this trope, but it’s arguably the most self-reflexive and effective.

Ultimately, what we’re left with is perhaps the most thematically, emotionally, and dramatically complicated Mad Max film of all. This is not to say it either is or isn’t better than Fury Road. But just as that film’s standing and reputation only grew over time, almost certainly, the same will happen for Furiosa – even if it, disappointingly, hasn’t found its full audience yet, as unfortunately evidenced by its relative box office revenue so far.

Episode Credits:

For more information on this podcast, including where it's available, please visit the show's homepage.