George Miller works overtime to justify his prequel to Mad Max: Fury Road. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga traces the back story of the warrior who seeks to return to the place from where she was snatched as a child. The new movie has even more nerve-shredding action set-pieces than its predecessor, many more characters, and an expansion of Miller’s dystopic vision.

The franchise that began with Mad Max in 1979 takes place in an imaginable future. Australia is Ground Zero for a world that may come to be: there are severe water and fuel shortages, the landscape is stripped of vegetation, and people are worse than animals in their love for bestial violence.

This survival-of-the-meanest realm is divided into three zones that are controlled by Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme). Dementus (Chris Hemsworth), who leads a vast pack of biker-marauders, wants in.

Furiosa (Anya Taylor-Joy) is sucked into the turf war between Immortan Joe and Dementus. Abducted as a young girl, Furiosa must rely on strength as well as memories of her mother if she has to get home. With some help from Immortan Joe’s sympathetic enforcer Jack (Tom Burke), Furiosa hones the skills that will eventually make her a fearsome fighter in Fury Road,

Chris Hemsworth in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024). Courtesy Warner Bros/Village Roadshow Pictures/Kennedy Miller Mitchell.

Furiosa lives up to its title. The new film’s tone is more savage than the previous productions. Furiosa lands in the middle of intense anxiety about the effects of climate change. Miller and co-writer Nico Lathouris are barely optimistic about what awaits the human race.

The jaw frequently drops to the floor during the daredevil action sequences, only to slide back into position by needless bloat. Although Miller has threatened yet another Mad Max spin-off, the 79-year-old filmmaker directs his latest movie like it is his last. The go-for-broke quality is equally split between Miller and his singular creations.

Furiosa clocks 148 minutes, which is more than enough time needed to understand its heroine’s journey. A few plot turns are contrived only to get Furiosa to switch camps and locations. Like a fighter stealthily attacking an adversary, Furiosa’s relationship with Jack comes out of nowhere.

The element of surprise that made Fury Road special is missing, even while Miller’s world-building remains as imaginative as ever. From the names of characters to the peculiar cadences of their speech, the eye-popping sets and the insane stunts, Fury Road was unlike anything we had seen before.

While some of that familiarity is lost in Furiosa, Miller compensates by satisfying curiosity about the circumstances that led to the events of Fury Road, ratcheting up the tension and showing off Jenny Beavan’s innovative costumes.

One character wears armour made out of bullets. Cars with parachutes attached to them rain havoc on Immortan Joe’s suicidal squad of followers. Dementus’s determination to achieve his mission results in furious driving through acres of sand.

Chris Hemsworth has been fitted with prosthetic make-up to play Dementus. It’s ironic that Hemsworth, the actor behind the Marvel superhero Thor, is barely recognisable in one of his most entertaining roles.

Dementus is a superb character, as flamboyant as he is demented, and Hemsworth plays him just right. By contrast, Anya Taylor-Joy is a misfit. Taylor-Joy’s lack of resemblance between her and Charlize Theron hangs over the performance. The ensemble cast of dreadfully behaved thugs fit more snugly into Miller’s gleefully off-kilter world than the talented Taylor-Joy.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024).