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If Anya Taylor-Joy doesn’t quite bring the same toughness that Charlize Theron did to the role, that only makes sense because Furiosa is younger and not as battle-hardened as she’ll become. Photo by Jasin Boland

I never saw much point in prequels, even though there’s theoretically no reason they can’t work. True, we know that their endpoint has to join up with the beginning of a previous story that we’re familiar with. A prequel can still deepen characters and (especially in the case of fantasy stories) fill in vivid details of the world where the story takes place. They can be valuable.

It’s just that so many of them aren’t. I look over the list of movie prequels and see one underwhelming disappointment after another. Why would this be the case? Do filmmakers just give up knowing that they can’t chart out an unexpected direction? I don’t think George Miller’s Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is as good as his insane 2015 masterwork Mad Max: Fury Road, but it does provide some of the same things while making a compelling case for its leading lady.

The story begins with 12-year-old Furiosa (Alyla Browne) venturing too far out of the Green Place and being abducted by bikers who take her to their leader Dementus (Chris Hemsworth). He eventually trades her to Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme, assuming the role from the late Hugh Keays-Byrne) as part of a deal to take over the gasoline depot. Not one to take this lying down, Furiosa fakes her disappearance, cuts off her hair, and disguises herself as a mute boy in Joe’s employ. Years later, grown-up Furiosa (Anya Taylor-Joy) saves Joe’s war rig and driver (Tom Burke) from an ambush by bandits, and the driver is grateful enough not to reveal her gender and to teach her how to do his job in the distinctly possible event of his death.

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What made Fury Road so effective was the contrast between its wild originality and its brutally simple story. Furiosa tones down the originality in favor of a more complicated story, and neither works as well. None of the visuals here are as awe-inspiring as the giant sandstorm in Fury Road, nor is anything as dementedly inspired as the Doof Warrior and his traveling bandstand.

We’re treated to the rarity of Hemsworth playing a villain and using his own Australian accent. He makes an interesting heavy, a guy who executes Furiosa’s mother (Charlee Fraser) in front of her but gives the girl a teddy bear to hold while it happens. He’s also funny — when Furiosa starts shooting his henchmen, he describes her as “someone excessively resentful.” Most interesting of all is when she finally corners him, and instead of trying to beg or bluster his way out of it, he does something more interesting: He taunts her, saying that nothing she does to him will make up for what he’s done to her, something he knows from personal experience. Of course, he’s right.

The action sequences remind us of the kinetic muscle that Miller has brought to the series, especially in the rig ambush and Furiosa’s stand with the driver against Dementus at the bullet factory. If Taylor-Joy doesn’t quite bring the same toughness that Charlize Theron did to the role, that only makes sense because Furiosa is younger and not as battle-hardened as she’ll become, and Taylor-Joy’s intense stare is recognizable even when protective gear is covering the rest of her face. (Between her, Theron, and Browne, who starred in this past April’s horror film Sting, there’s a great deal of integrity going on with this character. You feel like this is the same person at different ages.) Maybe the best part of Furiosa is seeing the star absorb the title character and make it into her own. Maybe that’s why we have a prequel.

 

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga
Starring Anya Taylor-Joy and Chris Hemsworth. Directed by George Miller. Written by George Miller and Nick Lathouris. Rated R.

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