Beyond the desert dunes lays… Furiosa!

Image credits: CROSS TO BEAR: Anya Taylor-Joy giving us the (overly) silent strong treatment as Furiosa in this Mad Max iteration.

The new George Miller Furiosa movie received a lot of undeserved flak, and I will try to redress the balance here. (It lost out to Garfield, believe it or not.) I’m not denying that there are problems, and while it is an inferior product compared to Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), it’s still worthy of sci-fi praise.

By Emad Aysha
The main problem with Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024) is that it takes itself too seriously. (How ironic that the problem with the previous movie is that it didn’t take itself seriously enough). It’s too gory, icky, tragic and philosophically pretentious. But apart from that, it's badass as hell!

The story begins, tackily, at the beginning with the adorably young Furiosa (Alyla Browne) in the green place picking peaches with an equally militaristic named friend, Valkyrie (Dylan Adonis), only to be disturbed by marauders and get herself kidnapped by people working for the big bad who is Dementus (Chris Hemsworth). He cages her up and forces her to watch his barbarity to toughen her up as his replacement offspring.

Alas, problems creep up early on. She cuts the pipe of one of the kidnappers’ bikes, and yet it moves and doesn’t run out of gas. She bit into the metal when she did the same thing to another pipe with her teeth.

There are visual problems, too. You have very high-resolution cinematography, but to remove the blurring that comes from digital cameras, you speed everything up to the point that it looks cartoonish.

MISSING IN ACTION: Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron from 'Mad Max: Fury Road'. Great duo but still no match for Mel Gibson.

Only the stunning visuals of the desert and visceral, graphic outfits, tools, and violence stop you from outright laughing. The performances aren’t half bad, either, but scenes seem to stretch on forever, and continuity errors occur in the plot along the way.

When Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme) takes the little girl in for some reason, she can exit the harem without anybody noticing or caring, even her initial pursuer, Rictus Erectus (Nathan Jones). And I don’t get the part about the boy’s piss, either.

At any rate, Dementus gets more significant than his britches can handle. Immortan must go to war with him, and now, in the process, we lose one of the best possible sequences in the movie, the final battle between the two unstoppable forces.

Instead, we get background shots of the War Pups somehow winning against a more mobile force with a boring monologue about the inevitability of war, and then the hot pursuit of Dementus by Furiosa, which also ends rather uneventfully, with prolonged dialogue taking the place of rip-roaring action.

Dementus’ words are actually moving and harrowing, but you still wanted more action leading up to it. This led you to suspect that Anya Taylor-Joy was winning too easily against his goons, including the maniacal woman Mr Norton (Elsa Pataky). Another missed opportunity.

The first time I’d seen Anya Taylor-Joy was in Morgan (2016); she was creepy and physically domineering. Here, she looks dwarfed and fragile, and the posing and camera angles don’t hide that, again giving a Mary Sue flavour to it all that wasn’t called for, given her acting credentials.

The ending with the (peach) tree sapping the life out of Hemsworth isn’t half bad, but it is hard to believe that she could drag him kicking and screaming towards that ‘epic’ fate despite his superior size and nastiness. If she had War Pups with her, that would be another matter.

There’s transparent pandering here, such as the fact that she has an inexplicable American accent. It was meant to appeal to the US audience, I'd sat. (And why get a South African in the previous movie to also speak that way?)

Now for some extended commentary. I liked the mentor dynamic between Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke) and Furiosa, a father figure and possible romantic interest who taught her not to lose hope (or faith) in this bleak, post-apocalyptic existence.

I also helped her not lose touch with her femininity. It's a shame they didn’t get more screen time compared to everything else in this 2h 28m movie.

The politics of this movie are not as well developed as the previous one; the green commune is multiracial and eco-friendly with renewable energy, symbolising tolerance to man and nature but not much more.

As for Fury Road, George Miller used symbols from the past very intelligently and self-consciously to talk about problems of the present.

Immortan Joe is the hydraulic despot, using water to control his people and living up and above like the residents of city-states and Medieval towers in the past. (The Yemeni king in the time of the Immamite wore a fluorescent suit up in the mountains to convince people he came from God).

The War Pups are suicide bombers, always saying ’witness’ (شاهد) whenever they are willing to die for the cause (to go to Valhalla, Viking heaven). At the same time, they are the offspring of their leader and his Harem, coupled with their Medieval chastity belts.

MODEL-POLITIK: I sneakily suspect that The People Eater (John Howard) is modelled on Tycho Brahe, down to the golden replacement nose!

But the beauty of it all is that none of this is anti-Islamic. It’s just symbolism and comes from everywhere (including Europe), and Immortan Joe is no fanatic. He's a reasonable guy and just uses religious sentiments to his advantage, as any ruler would in similarly desperate circumstances to impose some semblance of order.

Look at Gary Oldman as Carnegie in The Book of Eli (2010). He uses water, violence, and eventually religion to expand his domain. He appropriates symbols into himself, making himself feel good and seeing himself as a provider and benefactor. To be honest, he's not that different from Dementus, carrying a teddy bear everywhere with him—a legacy of lost innocence.

If only they’d got George Miller to do the Dune movie. He understands everything from world-building to the dynamics of deserts, which is much more than I can say for you-know-who.

 

Emad Aysha

Academic researcher, journalist, translator and sci-fi author. The man with the mission to bring Arab and Muslim literature to an international audience, respectably.
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