Charlize Theron is ready to return to the ‘Mad Max’ universe. We have some thoughts on how it should go.
It has been over two years since Mad Max: Fury Road roared into cinemas. The fourth installment in George Miller’s Mad Max saga isn’t just about the adventures of its titular character. Arguably, one of its crowning achievements was introducing the world to Imperator Furiosa.
Portrayed to fiery perfection by Charlize Theron, Furiosa is the real star of Fury Road. The eponymous Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) finds himself falling into her narrative basically by accident. He accompanies Furiosa as she steals away with the Five Wives of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and risks her life to save them from his authoritarian rule.
However, as enigmatic and powerful as Furiosa is, we really never find out much about her.
There is always room for more. According to Miller, there were once plans to shoot an anime companion piece to Fury Road titled Mad Max: Furiosa. Miller declared, “In order to tell this story [of Fury Road], we came up with two others.” However, they never saw the light of day.
Miller has stayed mostly mum about any potential Mad Max projects since. But this week, while promoting her new action movie, Atomic Blonde, Theron announced that she would happily explore Furiosa’s origins in a prequel film. In an interview with Variety, she reveals:
“There were three scripts. They were written as back stories to Max’s character and to Furiosa’s character. But at the end of the day, this thing lives and breathes with [director] George [Miller]. I think Warner Bros. knows that. We are all waiting for him to show us the way.”
Theron has in the past hinted at her resistance to reprise the role due to the tough, confusing working environment on the Fury Road set. However, she also praised Miller for his commitment to the women in the movie regardless of the difficulty of filming. Now, she seems readier than ever to revisit that world.
Nothing may be set in stone but I, like every other Fury Road fan, am brimming with excitement at the possibilities nonetheless. Furiosa remains one of the most intriguing and captivating leading women to grace the silver screen in the last few years. Her legacy ought to continue, especially as women in general steadily strengthen their foothold in Hollywood.
In recent years, it’s been regularly proven that women make up most of the box office. Women protagonists are hugely marketable. For evidence, you need only look at how well Wonder Woman is doing so far this year as it surpasses the box office totals of a number of male-centric superhero movies.
In the years since Fury Road, big-budget women-led films have taken a more positive turn in terms of content as well. They appear more layered in increasing numbers, and more actresses have had opportunities to actually play three-dimensional characters.
Thus, there are now more concrete ways to ensure Furiosa’s potential won’t be squandered in her prequel, whenever we’re privileged enough to see one. Let’s consider some:
The Question of Duty
Furiosa is introduced as a survivor in every sense of the word. Her main goal has always been primed towards protecting the five women she helps escape. A strong sense of duty happens to be one of her most pertinent characteristics, but we’re not sure where it comes from.
We can theorize, of course. For example, there is a moment at the beginning of Fury Road when Immortan Joe first realizes Furiosa is going off-course from her path towards Gas Town. Without question, he immediately moves to check on the Five Wives, setting off the main chain of events in the film.
This prompts the audience to ask exactly what Furiosa had done in the past to initiate such an automatic response. There is an implication that she has disrupted Joe’s misogynistic tyranny at least once before and has been caught and likely punished. It is probably that Furiosa operates out of retribution if that were the case, considering that Joe would not take lightly to someone — much less a woman — trying to liberate his “breeders.” It might serve as an explanation for her viciously asking, “Remember me?” the moment she kills him by ripping his breathing apparatus from his face.
It would be great to explore Furiosa from this angle of rage and accountability. A prequel could unpack her sheer obligation to save the Five Wives, and why they seem to be her only real priority. Fury Road establishes that Furiosa wants to get them out of captivity, but what of the rest of those trapped in the Citadel? She doesn’t seem to consider overthrowing Joe’s regime until Max brings it up and assures her that it would bring about the most beneficial outcome, should they succeed.
Furiosa’s primary impetus is a selfless, singular burden and we want to know how she got there.
The Unconscious Search for Hope
It isn’t a stretch to say that Furiosa is not a very hopeful person. Fury Road is a purposely bleak film underneath its high-octane action sequences and shiny cinematography. This desolation adds to its inherently suffocating — hence, memorable — quality. Hope is actually a much more implicit theme in Fury Road, and subsequently a much more powerful device. In the film, it is very much a by-product of survival, but the characters don’t indulge in it. Any semblance of hope is pretty much wishful thinking in this narrative.
In this regard, Furiosa is comparable to someone like Jyn Erso from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. We are all acutely aware that every mantra in Star Wars involves hope in some way. But Rogue One is particularly relevant because Jyn is an unconventional heroine like Furiosa. She lives with similarly pent-up resentment and conflict that drives her. Her ambitions are also equally small, first fighting for mere survival and later hoping to save her father and clear his name. Overall, Jyn, like Furiosa, keeps her head down unless it is absolutely necessary.
Jyn’s change of heart, when she realizes that the choice of one can affect many, marks a key difference between her and Furiosa. Furiosa only really acknowledges that she has found hope after her duty is complete whereas Jyn’s faith in humanity is more or less restored as she carries out her final mission. Although she does not live to see it, her actions triggered the series of events in A New Hope, destroying the Death Star and saving the galaxy.
That same vigor is definitely hinted at in Furiosa’s insistent defiance against Immortan Joe, and to let her indulge in that kind of optimism a little more would be ideal in a prequel.
The Presence of Unspoken Love
Furiosa is rather unreadable when it comes to love. The film makes it clear that she feels responsible for the Five Wives. She nurtures a sense of camaraderie with Max throughout the story and they end up with at least a mutual understanding of one another by the end.
The relationship between Furiosa and Max is more indicative of muted, perhaps unconventional love in an action film as opposed to a particular absence of it. They care for each other enough for Max to initiate a blood transfusion when it seems like Furiosa has died. But like hope, love could be considered an extraneous element that fuels Fury Road (no pun intended). It doesn’t have central significance to the main plot, so it occupies an amorphous space and informs the narrative only subconsciously.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that more overt portrayals of love would not and should not be considered detrimental to Furiosa as a heroine. “Women don’t need love interests to be strong” is a common refrain. But it’s only really true when love is used superficially or when it becomes the sole purpose of a woman’s onscreen existence.
There are films that do it right, aside from what’s implied in Fury Road. If there is one thing Wonder Woman has proven, it is that Diana of Themyscira saves the day because of her strength, authority and capacity to love. Love keeps Diana in check when she needs it and is vastly important in shaping her morals and beliefs. Furthermore, Diana is shown to be capable of different kinds of love. It allows her to indulge in it without being naive to those trying to manipulate her.
That is not to say Furiosa should go completely out of character and wax poetic about her love for every living creature on the planet in the prequel (whatever is left in the salt and sand, no less). That’s completely unrealistic given the degree of her cynicism in Fury Road. However, it would be worth delving into her potential for a purer goodness as smartly and maturely as Wonder Woman does.