Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga review – Anya Taylor-Joy has barely any lines. The plot is irrelevant. The mayhem is operatic

A good three-quarters of the screenplay might read ‘automotive hell breaks out’

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga
    
Director: George Miller
Cert: 15A
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Burke, Alyla Browne, Lachy Hulme, Nathan Jones, John Howard
Running Time: 2 hrs 28 mins

Purity in art traditionally comes with an austere aesthetic on a restricted budget. Symbolist poets starving in garrets and all that. One could not, however, reasonably deny the clarity of purpose in George Miller’s fifth entry to the Mad Max saga. The film cost about $230 million. It employs a cast of thousands. It is positioned to keep the mainstream box office aloft in the opening days of summer. Yet there is a lean focus throughout Furiosa.

It has been revealed that Anya Taylor-Joy, the title character as a young adult, has only 30 lines of dialogue in the whole picture. You wouldn’t say there is much (awful phrase) character development elsewhere. Such frivolities are suspended for a devotion to operatic mayhem that not even the Oscar-conquering Mad Max: Fury Road could equal.

This is mostly, but not entirely, a good thing. Without even the tendrils of emotional connection that united the characters in that last episode, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga sometimes loses itself in repetitive spectacle. It is like watching the greatest circus performer on Earth overstay his welcome and cause the audience to grow blase about the spinning plates, hurtling knives or tamed lions.

None of which is to pretend this is not a remarkable spectacle. We begin in a sort of Eden, a matriarchal oasis where the young Furiosa (Alyla Browne) gambols amid fruit trees. One day she spots a gang of motorcycle marauders resting in the glades. After brave attempts to frustrate their schemes, she is captured and brought to the camp of hairy warlord Doctor Dementus (Chris Hemsworth, close to unrecognisable) and appointed his adopted – and caged – daughter.


There is a great deal of automotive mayhem before Dementus’s people capture Gastown and enter negotiations with Immortan Joe at the rocky Citadel. None of this much matters. A good 75 per cent of the screenplay might read “automotive hell breaks out”.

The casting is eccentric. The film-makers work hard to make young Browne look and move like Taylor-Joy, who plays the older Furiosa. Taylor-Joy, in the few opportunities offered, captures Charlize Theron’s vocal ticks perfectly, but she could hardly look less like her predecessor in the role. Why bother doing the impersonation if – a perfectly reasonable option – you’re not striving for physical similarity? Still, Taylor-Joy makes the role her own. She doesn’t have Theron’s physical presence, but her ghostly otherness adds an equally interesting energy.

For all the technical brilliance of this century’s two Mad Max films, something has been lost from the era-defining standout that was Mad Max 2, more than 40 years ago. (Oh, and watch out for a cute nod to that film.) Much has been made of the director’s commitment to physical stunts. Quite right. It’s good to know that the attackers descending on the war rig from kites and personal helicopters were really out there in the Australian outback. The collisions have a satisfying solidity too often missing from dumber carmageddons. But Simon Duggan’s cinematography is washed out in an ochre haze that makes everything look as if glanced through a full Lucozade bottle. The seat-of-the-pants grit of the first film seems as distant as kitchen-sink verite.

That noted, nobody could sit through a minute of Furiosa without being caught up in the shot-to-shot peril. Miller and his team have planned each sequence with a precision that speaks not just of experience but of confidence in a vast surrounding team. There is therefore a sense of inevitability about it all, but it is the inevitability of a skilled (and sometimes horrible) ballet. It’s compelling even if you don’t believe in the passengers as humans who eat, sleep and go to the lavatory. That is an achievement in itself.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is in cinemas from Friday, May 24th

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist