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George Miller's breathtaking Furiosa a mad marvel of postapocalyptic genius

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Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.


The first time I saw George Miller's Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (released in the US without "Mad Max" in the title), I honestly could have cared less. It was the summer of 1981, and I was thrilled that Smokey and the Bandit II was back in theaters, as we'd missed it the previous year. I was obsessed with the first Smokey and the Bandit, thought Burt Reynolds was about the coolest guy this side of Harrison Ford, and hadn't the first clue who Max Rockatansky was. Suffice it to say, while I was happy my parents had surprised me with a Sunday trip to the theater, I was only excited about one half of the afternoon's double feature.

When we came back outside, all I wanted to talk about was The Road Warrior, and all thoughts of Reynolds, a desert climax featuring an armada of big rigs battling it out with Sheriff Buford T. Justice, and a cute baby elephant had disappeared entirely from my memory. No, it was all Max, the Feral Kid, the Gyro Captain, Humungus, the psychotic villain with the colorful mohawk (I'd only later learn the character's name was "Wez"), Pappagallo's wickedly cool car, and a rampaging ending unlike anything I'd ever seen before. I was so enamored with the picture that my dad took me back to see it — and only it — two more times before it ended its run a few weeks later.

As much as I like Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and adore Mad Max: Fury Road, I have not felt that immediate, stratospheric, oh-my-gosh-how-the-heck-did-he-do-that sort of high when walking out of Miller's dystopian cinematic world since (although the latter nearly got me there). The filmmaker throws up sights and sounds like no one else. His skill at orchestrating mind-bending action is undeniable. The way he crafts a concrete, instantly authentic world of utter madness is extraordinary.

But that instantaneous feeling of giddy euphoria? That hasn't happened since The Road Warrior. That is, until now, until after watching Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.

I'm not going to make the case that Furiosa is "better" than either The Road Warrior or Fury Road. I'm not sure I can. But what Miller achieves? The scope of his vision? The sheer Wagnerian size of it all? I'm dumbfounded. This prequel is a master class in storytelling and directorial vision that evokes Greek mythology, the spaghetti Western, grind house postapocalypse drive-in extravaganzas, old-school Hollywood melodrama, and classic film noir, all of it confidently pulverized into a breathtakingly eye-popping mélange of cinematic bravado that left me speechless.

Split into five chapters, this prequel begins with a young Furiosa (talented newcomer Alyla Browne) being kidnapped from the Wasteland's seemingly last remaining "green place" and delivered to warlord Dementus (a never-better Chris Hemsworth), a wannabe post-apocalyptic Alexander the Great who never encountered a precious resource that he couldn't greedily overuse to oblivion. It moves from there to the teenage girl's introduction to Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme), commander of the water-rich Citadel and leader of an army of so-called "war boys," who will all unquestioningly sacrifice themselves for his benefit at the snap of a finger.

The next three pieces involve a now twentysomething Furiosa (Anya Taylor-Joy) working for Immortan Joe and learning all she needs to know to survive — and thrive — in the Wasteland from a determined road warrior known as Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke). It all builds to a final face-off with Dementus, who longs to get his hands on the Citadel and its resources no matter the cost. But while Furiosa rightfully wants her revenge, she's also plotting to get back to the Green Place, and if that means double-crossing Immortan Joe, so be it.

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Everything in this prequel is fully fleshed out and meticulously built. The relationship between the Citadel, the Bullet Farm, and Gas Town is documented down to the last detail, with rhapsodic efficiency. Characters introduced in Fury Road as colorful accessories to the war of wills waged between Max, Furiosa, and Immortan Joe are given vivid, idiosyncratic details that make them come alive as never before here. There is an elephantine grandeur to events that's unlike any other installment in this series, with comedy, drama, horror, and action all mixing on the canvas as if they were a Jackson Pollock masterpiece.

While nothing about this opus could ever be construed as boring, it does take about an hour for Miller to unleash his first massive, almost 20-minute set piece. Furiosa has stowed away on Immortan Joe's War Rig and finds she needs to partner with Praetorian Jack when a bunch of Dementus's former warriors go rogue and attack without warning. Likely shocking no one, the director delivers an array of sights, sounds, and vehicular pyrotechnics that defy belief. It's unreal.

And it all only gets better from there. Even as years pass and Furiosa transforms into the unstoppable Imperator she will become, Miller keeps the gas pedal firmly pressed to the floor. Emotions are big, bold, and deliciously larger than life. The operatic majesty is like something out of Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly or Once Upon a Time in the West. The showdown between Furiosa and Dementus is well worth the wait. As for the final scenes, the moments that bleed from this prequel directly into the three days and two nights of a high-octane, kinetic free-for-all are perfect.

So, yeah, I was giddily euphoric exiting Furiosa. When I finally did put a few thoughts together, I found I was speaking with a gleeful urgency I seldom have immediately after a screening. This is Miller's world, and I'm ecstatic I've been lucky enough to be around to experience every single second of it. What a rush!