.‘Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’ Travels a Familiar Highway

Re: George Miller’s Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga: Once more, we find ourselves plunged into Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle.

Debord (1931–1994), a favorite French intellectual of the espresso-and-resistance crowd, published the above book in 1967, popularizing its assertion that the public perception of “being” had devolved into a “spectacular” set of mere distracting contrivances.

In common with many of its think-piece contemporaries on the subject of the modern human condition, Debord’s essay has grown a few whiskers since then. The concept of idealistic social upheaval isn’t exactly what it used to be.

And yet, Situationist critic Debord’s observations on lived reality, representation and perceived social life—especially the parts about the ongoing commoditization of personal interaction and the persistence of colonialism—still manage to touch a chord in the era of AI and social media. Gratifyingly, such underlying skepticism has never gone out of fashion.

Writer-director Miller’s original 1979 hot-rods-and-body-armor fable caught the vibe. The gaudy franchise about an always-disintegrating, gasoline-deprived Australia and the adventures of a lone rebel stands out in a crowded field of dystopian fantasies.

Mad Max and his virtual descendants—forever trying to straighten out injustices in the name of the downtrodden—have seemingly never lost their power to excite and engage. Furiosa, the fifth entry in Miller’s irresistible demolition derby, aims to be both spectacular and spectacularly meaningful.

It’s an origination myth. Innocent young Furiosa (played by Alyla Browne), reaching for an apple in a tree, gets kidnapped by a gang of barbaric bikers and swept into a life of never-ending terror and warfare. She grows up into the epitome of a fierce survivor. The adult Furiosa (Anya Taylor-Joy), who secretly nurtures the seed of the apple tree as hope for the future, becomes a leading warrior in the army of Dr. Dementus (played in a froth by Chris Hemsworth). She eventually joins forces with another rebel, Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke).

Two hours and 28 minutes of chaotic cinematic violence ensue. A big battle, a chase scene, a bigger chase scene, a much bigger battle. Furiosa lands a job as a “pit boy” on one of Dementus’ war wagons, after passing through the royal harem. An English football cheer rises from Gastown. Slaves harvest maggots for food, off of a collection of severed limbs.

In one scene, Dementus clearly resembles Nikolay Cherkasov’s Alexander Nevsky from the similarly energetic 1938 Sergei Eisenstein epic of the same name—Miller has conceivably been doing some late-night Soviet film homework.

There’s enough action here for three features. Maybe the filmmaker could have split the long, long running time across several movies and given them separate names (Chunder Road? Sand Witch Spread? The Great Unwashed?).

Snuggled down pop-eyed in their reclining seats, viewers struggle to distinguish between the characters—was that Scrotus or Toe Jam? What finally happened to the two Vuvalinis, male and female? Sadly, original hero Mel Gibson is nowhere to be seen. All the while, busy Furiosa hides the prophetic apple seed in her hairdo.

Taylor-Joy, deservedly heralded for her performance in the chess drama The Queen’s Gambit, is starved for dialogue while scooting through the outback, but Furiosa’s steely determination—not to mention her expressive eyes—nearly carries the movie. Nearly. Her stunt double looks ready to compete in the Olympics. Can’t say the same for Hemsworth’s fulminating Dementus, with his chains and leather and his stuffed animal toy. Haul out the time machine—misplaced Thor belongs in a 1960s-era AIP outlaw biker pic, opposite Bruce Dern and Adam Roarke.

The basic premise of the Mad Max saga has never changed, but the over-familiarity of the set pieces and the rapid-fire “top this” grotesquery can wear down even the most appreciative audience. Exuberance alone can’t quite carry the burden, especially the fifth time around. The franchise peaked with Fury Road. This spectacle is running out of gas. 

Opens May 24 at theaters in Campbell, Milpitas, Mountain View, Palo Alto, San Jose, Santa Clara and Saratoga.


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