furiosa: a mad max saga (film, 2024) ↑

Coming off the back of Mad Max: Fury Road, one of the greatest action films of all time, Furiosa had monumental shoes to fill. While it didn't quite reach the lofty heights of its predecessor, I found it to be a solid expansion of the Mad Max franchise that was well worth the watch.

The film wastes no time thrusting us into its desolate yet strikingly beautiful post-apocalyptic world. In her breakout role, young Australian actress Alyla Browne delivers a stellar performance as the young Furiosa. Browne sets the stage for what is to come from Anya Taylor-Joy, who takes over the role of Furiosa as a young woman. Like Charlize Theron in Fury Road, Taylor-Joy commands the screen with a fierce intensity and an unwavering spirit that refuses to yield even in the face of the film's worst villains. She is matched in intensity by a surprise standout performance from Chris Hemsworth.

Gone is the charismatic charm of Thor - as the deranged warlord Dementus, Hemsworth fully commits to unhinged madness in a role that represents his most gripping work to date. With his unsettling garb of bones and gruesome modifications, Dementus is a haunting and physically imposing threat. Hemsworth brings nuance to the character, imbuing Dementus with a childlike lack of impulse control that makes him more unsettling and unpredictable. The scenes of his unstable yet forceful leadership had me both cringing and unable to look away.

The Citadel itself is a huge player in the film, both as a physical set and as a story element. It demonstrates the vast world-building evolution of this post-apocalyptic realm under George Miller's direction. Roaming through its towering sketchy interiors and across its massive expanses, you really get a sense of the scale and social structure that has developed in this new stark society. Similarly, brief glimpses of other pockets like Gas Town and Bullet Farm offer expansions to the ecosystem we know exists beyond.

While human performances are the soul of any film, no Mad Max film would be complete without pushing the limits of practical automobile stuntwork. And Furiosa delivers on this front in spades. Whether it's packs of souped-up Biker Horde terrorizing the wastelands or hulking 18-wheelers modified into weapons of mass destruction, the vehicle sequences had my adrenaline flowing. However, some of the CGI augmentation is noticeably below par in sequences, taking you out of the experience. When compared to the virtually all-practical achievements of Fury Road, it highlights the contrast in quality. A few overly expository monologues also disrupt the swift flow that Miller typically nails.

Musically, Tom Holkenborg (Junkie XL) does justice again to the sonic world of Mad Max with his pounding score. It swells at all the appropriate moments to heighten tension or celebration. Visually, the cinematography by Simon Duggan maintains the tattered yet textural aesthetic we've come to expect. Whether zooming through the vast wastelands or shooting tight within the Citadel's grimy interiors, it transports you straight into the heart of this ruined society.

At its heart, Furiosa succeeds masterfully in what it sets out to do - expand the scope of this anarchic post-oil world, shed light on a key protagonist's backstory, and deliver the kind of visceral rollercoaster action we've come to celebrate this franchise for. Even if it doesn't quite reach the same cinematic high points, it satisfies on the level of entertainment it promises as a popcorn blockbuster sequel.