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Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

will leave no one who loved Fury Road feeling short-changed

★★★★ - STUFF

- Furiosa: This Road meets Road Runner brings the Joy-

I'm a big believer in watching films in the way they are supposed to be seen.

I run out of patience pretty quickly with anyone who tries to corner me at a party with some tedious nonsense about how they didn't like Dune or whatever, and then admits they watched it at home on their TV while scrolling on their phone and keeping one eye on the dinner and the nippers.

I get that not everyone can take a chunk out of their day to see a movie in a theatre, and that in these – still – Covid times, sitting next to a bunch of strangers in a room holds about as much appeal as a cold bath with the ex.

But, I still reckon that a big movie needs a big screen and a whole lot of speakers to really be appreciated. And so it was that I fired up the van and made the pilgrimage to Lower Hutt and the Imax screen on Thursday, to see George Miller's latest instalment in the Mad Max franchise in the way he intended. And whānau, I'm glad I made the effort.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga takes place in the years before Mad Max: Fury Road. I don't think it counts as a spoiler to tell you the film is an origin-yarn for the character Furiosa, who was played by Charlize Theron in Fury Road, in a performance that pretty much blew Tom Hardy's titular Max right off the screen. Stepping into Theron's boots was always going to be a huge ask, even to play the character at a half-formed, adolescent stage.

And to be fair, for a while, I didn't think that Anya Taylor-Joy (The WitchThe Menu) was quite up to it. But as Furiosa unfurls, and we get to see the character shaped by the various iterations of lunacy that are unfolding around her, so Taylor-Joy allows her Furiosa to visibly toughen and grow into something much more like Theron's unstoppable wāhine-toa from 2015.

Furiosa opens 15 years in this time-line's past. In the mythical Green Place, a very young Furiosa goes wandering in search of fruit trees and gets herself kidnapped by a couple of bandits who are in the employ of the warlord Dementus.

As it was in Fury Road, this corner of post-apocalypse Australia is dominated by three settlements. The Citadel controls the supply of water, Bullet-Town makes the steel and Gas-Town is an armoured fuel refinery. The Citadel is the controlling power and is run by the preening and ludicrous Immortan Joe and his two sons, who aren't actually called Eric and Don Jr., but may as well be.

The alliance and trade between the three powers is the engine of the economy and young Furiosa is about to become a pawn in a rebellion that Dementus hopes to lead. As Dementus, Chris Hemsworth runs off with the film in every scene he gets and my enjoyment of Furiosa definitely dipped during the lengthy second-act when Hemsworth was off-screen and doing other things.

In its best moments, there's a The Road-meets-Road Runner energy to this film that will leave no one who loved Fury Road feeling short-changed. The world-building is just as effective as it was in that film and, as Furiosa evolves and moves towards her final form, the action also becomes just as kick-ass as you were hoping it would.

Furiosa requires a lot of exposition and backstory to get us to where we all want to be and, even at 148 minutes long, the film still feels a bit episodic and rushed, as though a few vital pieces of connective tissue have been left on the editor's bench. But the only real problem here is surely that this is a follow-up to one of the actual greatest action films ever made. Mad Max: Fury Road is still an absolute high-water mark for big-screen mayhem and any film that dares to follow it has an almost impossible task. But, Furiosa gives it a red hot lash and everyone involved should take a bow.

It's been 45 years since George Miller first put the world of Mad Max on screen. Miller is 79 now, and – argue all you want – is still one of the best choreographers of bonkers excess around.

I have no idea if Furiosa is his last shake of the bag, or whether this film is only an instalment in a new series, but if it is the latter, I hope Miller sticks around to direct at least a few more. Bravo.

- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is now playing at Light House Cinema! 

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