Mad Max fifth installment fails to deliver a realistic prequel on Furiosa

By Moira Jean Sullivan
The poster for George Millers’ 2024 Furiosa A Mad Max Saga features the towering War Lord of the Biker Horde Dementus (Chris Elmworth) standing above Furiosa, eclipsing her. This is a prequel to Mad Max: Fury Road by Australian director George Miller who decided to cast Anya Taylor-Joy as a younger Furiosa, instead of Charlize Theron. The film seems to have a more polished look compared to its predecessor, with modern and updated elements. However, some may miss the intricate details and character development seen in the previous film. Editor and Academy Award winner Margaret Sixel has changed her editing style where character development has given way to scenic cinematography. Continuity editing added illustrious depth to the characters and fight scenes of Mad Max: Fury Road. The prequel has a different feel and lacks strong female characters, with Furiosa, and minor characters. This includes her mother Mary Jabassa and Vuvalini General Elsa Pataky (Chris Elmworth's wife) with no significant character development. Both are overshadowed by male counterparts. Pataky also doubles as a member of Dementus' Biker Horde. Shots of the desert and equipment into and from Gas Town have overtaken the shot reverse shot editing characteristic of the previous film. The storyline leaves out Furiosa's background and the Green Place where she grew up. Overall, the film raises questions about the portrayal of strong women in cinema since Miller relies primarily on Furiosa as a young girl and later young woman.

The film kicks off with scenes of Mary Jabassa as she attempts to rescue her daughter from Dementus. She is shown as a sharpshooter, and a very capable and powerful warrior. George Miller made the decision to cast Anya Anna-Taylor as the younger Furiosa. He explained that Theron couldn't be "youthened" for the prequel. While Theron may not have resembled her younger self Furiosa requires a better narrative, not the creation of a new plot line of her warlord captor. Chris Hemsworth takes up a significant portion of the film and overshadows Furiosa whenever they are together on screen.

The brides of Immortan Joe: Toast the Knowing, Capable, Cheedo, the Dag and Splendid Angharad are missing from the prequel, or anyone like them. "Our babies will not be warlords"; "we are not things" are important adages from the five wives who flee with Furiosa in Mad Max Fury Road. The bottom half of the poster for Furiosa is captivating (shown in this review) but the dominating Dementus above her symbolizes why this film is not a prequel to the character of Furiosa but bifurcates her legend and posits a new narrative of her captor. I am not interested in this story; we were promised a prequel of Imperator Furiosa. This is how female legends are often usurped by male characters.

Furiosa - A Mad Max Saga's art direction and set design alludes to potentially a better film than its predecessor. Yet the Mad Max sagas take place after the apocalypse where the world is sour and poisoned from the human body to the water, air and earth. The film showcases sumptuous wide-angle shots of the desert, but lacks the sophisticated mise en scène of Fury Road. Margaret Sixel's previous work on character identification and fight scenes in her first editing credit for Mad Max Fury Road is sorely missed in the new installment. Have a look at Sixel’s editing in that film of intricate camera angles with match cuts especially applied to fight scenes and the mobile armada of old vintage cars with polecats swinging from one car to the other. That includes shots of the blind guitarist Coma Doof Warrior sitting atop a huge road vehicle with multiple mounted speakers. A bold touch of the creators of Mad Max Fury Road was that this warrior is wearing a mask made-up of the skin of his dying mother lots of mother metaphors in these last two Mad Max films).

Immortan Joe played by the late Hugh Keays-Byrne in the 2015 film is replaced by a younger, tamer, less dreadful and less domineering character played by Lachy Hulme. This allows Dementus to take over as villain with side show veterans from Mad Max Fury Road such as People Eater, the mayor of the Citadel who has acquired his power from mining an aquifer sitting atop a fresh lake. Also cast is beefy Rictus Erectus and trigger happy Bullet Farmer.

The absence of women in speaking roles is a major flaw, especially in a time when films featuring strong female leads are prevalent. Anya Taylor-Joy delivers a strong performance, but her character still feels overshadowed by male actors. The lack of development on key plot points, such as the Vulvalini of the Many Mothers, is disappointing. The Valkyrie and Keeper of the Seeds, and the many mothers are missing. This mythology should have been explored in the prequel and seems to have been too intimidating for a film that has so much testosterone in it that it could be administered as a drug. Furiosa is even romantically linked to a character called Praetorian Jack. The Green Place is not shown in the prequel where the young Furiosa is abducted by Dementus. While some location shots remain the same, it doesn't necessarily elevate the film. The absence of Mad Max is mysterious, as he has been a central figure in every other installment. In this film he only has a cameo. Anna Taylor-Joy's stoic portrayal may be intentional, but it doesn't necessarily make her character more powerful. The lack of emotional range in her performance is conspicuous, despite one standout scene of rage. She revealed at the Cannes press conference it was due to Miller's direction.

Overall, Furiosa has its strengths and weaknesses, but falls short in important areas. The film could have delved deeper into key plot points and the history about Furiosa. It seems like George Miller really doesn't know what to do with her, the character that has been known as "The Praetorian", "Warrior Woman" and "The Imperator".

Newbies covering Cannes make it a point to write about how long the standing ovations are in minutes and seconds. This has been a phenomena in recent festival reports. Unfortunately I had a hard time cheering enthusiastically for this prequel.

© 2024 - Moira Jean Sullivan/Cannes Reviews: 05/15/24
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