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Full Speed Ahead for Furiosa: Fifth Mad Max Movie Fuels the Franchise

What would you say to a single action scene that required 78 shooting days and 200 stunt men?

Those are the stats on the central chase in George Miller’s Furiosa; and the film is worth seeing for that alone.

Happily, it has lots of other great stuff, too.

This fifth installment in the long-running Mad Max franchise opened in late May to lukewarm receipts — despite strong reviews from both critics and audiences. It’s a prequel to 2015’s Fury Road, which is considered by many — including your Webb Weekly critic — to be the single greatest action movie ever made.

Furiosa, giving back-story on the one-armed vixen played by Charlize Theron in the earlier film, is not quite that good. But it does stake out new territory, while also offering plenty of the propulsive, nerve-rattling, innovative action for which Miller is so deservedly well known.

What marks a step forward here is the stronger feel of mythology — with a make-shift chariot, competing city-states and references to both Hector’s corpse and the Trojan Horse. Even better, this fifth film has — for my money anyway — a good deal more heart and soul than its predecessors.

And this in turn is due to the cast, highlighted by Anya Taylor-Joy in the lead, along with the magnetic Tom Burke as Praetorian Jack; and we mustn’t overlook the incredible Alyla Browne, who gets nearly half the movie to play a younger, resolute and very appealing Furiosa.

For those not familiar with the franchise, it’s set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where gas and food are hoarded and fought for with ruthless, existential ferocity — mostly involving souped-up cars and trucks chasing each other across the desert in a series of jarringly acrobatic pursuits, crashes and explosions.

While Miller has admitted that the chronology of the films is somewhat loose, he and his co-writer Nico Lathouris reportedly spent 15 years writing Fury Road, including back-stories for all the characters — particularly Furiosa. Here, we learn that as a young girl, she was kidnapped from an Edenic enclave by an army of savage motorcyclists — led by the brutal and narcissistic Dementus (yes, Miller is great with these futuristic nicknames); that love-to-hate villain is played with surprising viciousness by the otherwise irresistibly charismatic Chris Hemsworth.

After a courageous attempt at rescue by Furiosa’s mother, the young lady becomes a pawn between three feuding city-states, and she spends the rest of the movie wishing to get home — while also seeking vengeance on the cruel, foolish and despotic Dementus.

What fans love about Fury Road is that its spectacular action involves practical effects, with very little computerized imagery. Miller and co. have gone more digital in Furiosa — but there’s still enough real and frighteningly authentic action to satisfy even the most die-hard fans (pun intended). That mid-film chase, involving a colossal three-section truck and several flying machines, is simply a masterpiece.

At the same time, Miller brews up a good deal of emotional resonance. Taylor-Joy radiates a seamless blend of woundedness and rage, while Burke is nearly as mesmerizing as young Mel Gibson in 1981’s amazing Mad Max 2 (aka, The Road Warrior).

With Browne’s remarkably frail-but-sturdy young lady and a low-key romance between Jack and the older Furiosa, this movie really binds us to the characters and their odyssey. Indeed, this strong emotional undertow is a potent reminder that Miller also wrote and-or directed Lorenzo’s Oil, Babe and the animated Happy Feet.

I should warn readers that there’s strong violence in Furiosa — which is kind of a Miller trademark. Yet it’s also worth noting that he often chooses to turn away at key moments — or at least, not to actually show the worst.

Currently underperforming at the box office, Furiosa will be hard-pressed to recoup its hefty $168 million budget. But I plan to do my part by seeing it again soon.

As with Fury Road, its intricate action and densely textured world-building are too much to take in with a single viewing.