Anya Taylor-Joy in  "Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga."

Anya Taylor-Joy in  "Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga." Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

PLOT In a post-apocalypse world, a kidnapped girl tries to find her way back home.
CAST Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Burke
RATED R (strong action and gore)
WHERE Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE A breakneck, breathtaking, blow-you-back-in-your-seat spectacle.

There are two ways you can approach “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga,” the latest in George Miller’s enduring post-apocalypse film series. One is as pure mindless entertainment, an utterly pleasurable blast of mind-blowing action and eye-popping visuals. The other is as a cinematic statement from a director who speaks the language of film so fluently that nearly every frame feels like a novel in miniature.

If that sounds highfalutin, consider this: The previous entry, “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015) was a critically acclaimed hit that won six Oscars — not what you’d normally expect from the reboot of a dormant action franchise. Like Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns (a major influence on Miller), the “Mad Max” movies are lowbrow pulp made with high artistic craft. If “Furiosa” lacks the gonzo inventiveness and out-of-nowhere surprise factor of “Fury Road,” it arguably surpasses it in terms of scale, scope and sheer velocity.

In this prequel, Miller casts the enigmatic Anya Taylor-Joy (“The Queen’s Gambit”) as a young Furiosa — previously played by Charlize Theron — and counter-casts Marvel hero Chris Hemsworth (“Thor”) as her tormentor, the Warlord Dementus. While Taylor-Joy is a clearly perfect choice,, Hemsworth is an unexpected delight as a petty tyrant with a murderous rage, a strangely quacking voice and a cockroach’s ability to survive every stomp. Dementus kidnaps the young Furiosa, hoping she’ll reveal the location of her hidden home, the Place of Abundance. But as she grows — and escapes — she sticks to her twin missions: Return to her tribe, and exterminate the man who orphaned her.

“Furiosa” unfolds in five chapters as our hero encounters one fresh hell after another: The fiefdom of Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme), who leads a suicidal army of white-painted War Boys; the belching industrial fortress of Gastown; and, of course, the open road, with its possibilities of salvation or annihilation. Alongside the taciturn driver Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke, adding a bit of romantic frisson), Furiosa pilots a hulking War Rig across the desert, beset by a seemingly infinite assortment of gnat-like attack vehicles. Yes, we’ve seen this set-piece before, but it’s starting to feel like Miller’s fundamental artistic concept, as inexhaustible as Frank Stella’s geometrics or Lou Reed’s two-chord pop song.

“Furiosa” is more focused on character than past installments — Dementus and Furiosa sometimes seem like Lear and Cordelia — which deepens the story but sometimes stalls the momentum. There’s also a little too much war-room strategizing among the various warlords. (In any “Mad Max” movie, the less talking the better.) That said, “Furiosa” hurtles along at such blinding speed that you might welcome the occasional lull. Though not a perfect movie, “Furiosa” is that rare thing — a slam-bang blockbuster made by a true visionary.

Here's what other critics are saying about “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga”

[Director George] Miller is trying to add operatic heft and seriousness to what started in 1979 as a fun, rip-roaring smear of nightmarish, post-apocalyptic motor oil. In that case, “Fury Road” was fantastic, but “Furiosa” is just fine. — Associated Press

“Furiosa,” to its distinction and detriment, ends up being too self-regarding, too downbeat. — Los Angeles Times

Furiosa runs on a high-octane philosophical perspective that finds hope in a hopeless place. Also, a lot of cars go fast and [expletive] blows up. It’s a win-win. — Rolling Stone

Anya Taylor-Joy is a fierce presence in the title role and Chris Hemsworth is clearly having fun as a gonzo Wasteland warlord, but the mythmaking lacks muscle, just as the action mostly lacks the visual poetry of its predecessor. — Hollywood Reporter

It all adds up to is a movie that can be darkly bedazzling, and that will be embraced and defended in a dozen passionate ways — but it’s one that, to me, falls very short of being a “Mad Max” home run. — Variety

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