Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga Is an Absolute Triumph That Is Missing One Thing

a group of motorcycles on a desert road
Furiosa Is a Triumph That's Missing One ThingCourtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

During a chase scene three-quarters through the new film Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, the camera pans briefly across the nose of a getaway car that Furiosa (Anya Taylor-Joy) is using to escape the evil Dr. Dementus (Chris Hemsworth). You can see the word Valiant on the grille of the car. This is a genius bit of filmmaking. So much is communicated in that instant.

The Valiant getaway car is a hot-rodded post-apocalyptic desert buggy clearly built on a surviving Plymouth Valiant. But it’s also a wink from director George Miller. Valiance is the defining trait of the main character, what makes her one of the fiercest female warriors ever to appear on the big screen. In fact, valiance is the driving force of this entire film. It’s a rare movie where you can answer the question—what is it about?—with a single word.

But the Valiant logo on this car is important on a whole other level. It’s a reminder that this is a movie made by gear heads for gear heads. Cars and motorcycles are living, breathing creatures in Mad Max’s world. That is why R&T named Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) the best car movie of all time in our Hollywood issue three years ago. The new movie will go down as an absolute classic for car fans. But there’s a loss of innocence in the film, too. That’s built into all the characters, but also, the film franchise itself. Furiosa will make some fans long for older movies, and not just because they’re boomers.

a person standing next to a tractor
Jasin Boland

To understand the dystopia that this new film immerses you in—and how cars came to be the stars—you have to go back to nearly the beginning. The “Wasteland” where it takes place is “a firestorm of fear,” as the narrator explains in the first scenes of The Road Warrior (1981). After the nuclear apocalypse came a new society where daily survival is everything. “Men began to feed on men,” the narrator tells us. “On the roads it was a white-lined nightmare. Only those mobile enough to scavenge, brutal enough to pillage, would survive. The gangs took over the highways.”


In the Wasteland, vehicles are the tools with which clans fight wars of survival and the tools they use to scavenge. That is why food is less valuable than fuel in the new Furiosa film, and why a mechanic is more prized than a physician. Except for the powerful who control everything, human life means little. All that matters is the next tank of gas.

The original films were so low budget, futuristic costumes consisted of hockey masks and football shoulder pads that could be purchased at a local sporting goods store. It’s campy, even funny in retrospect. But, it is also exactly on-point. The idea of this post-apocalyptic environment is that human beings are surviving on whatever’s left over from the normal world they used to inhabit. That ideology informs the cars and motorcycles. In the original movies, they are modified stock vehicles that existed before the nukes wrecked everything.

Any wheel that is still round will be used. Any rusted piece of junk can be a weapon, if the engine will turn over.

The most famous car of the original films is, of course, Mad Max’s Interceptor. It’s a car that captured the imagination of a generation of sci-fi fans who were also car nuts. “It was the meanest muscle car ever to roll across a screen,” says Dee Vyper, the creator of Seattle-based Mad Max Cars, a movie and TV replica car builder that specializes in Mad Max vehicles. “For me, it all started the first time I saw The Road Warrior. It changed my entire life. I had been a fan of The Dukes of Hazzard, Knight Rider, Batman, and Starsky & Hutch, as a kid. But when I saw Mad Max and the Interceptor, my whole world changed.”

a person sitting on a fire truck
Jasin Boland

The Interceptor was a modified Australian Ford Falcon. So too was the Red XA Bat Wipeout, another key early Mad Max movie car. The Nightrider police car in the first film was a modified 1972 Holden Monaro, named for the berserk Nightrider villain who steals it and is also famous for the line, "I'm a fuel injected suicide machine. I am a rocker, I am a roller, I am the out-of-controller! I'm the Nightrider, baby!"

These cars were clearly based on stock vehicles. They spawned a counterculture of replica builders. Today, these fans attend national festivals like Roadwar Northwest and Wasteland Weekend, in full Mad Max costume. They build replicas that are sometimes so detailed that they are pinpointed to a specific moment in a specific film. Their passion is a strong reason why Furiosa, today’s film, exists.

George Miller—who has directed all the Mad Max films and created the franchise—has been careful to maintain his original imagining of the Wasteland. However, the world you are dropped into in Furiosa is not the low budget world of The Road Warrior. There are no hockey masks and football shoulder pads in the costume department. Every element is now thoroughly imagined, every detail richly crafted. This applies to the cars and motorcycles, which is where, for some, the film goes right, and for others, it will go wrong.

The vehicles in Furiosa are so highly-stylized that in almost every case, it would be impossible to draw it back to a stock vehicle. You don’t watch the movie and see menacing muscle cars you can imagine yourself building in your garage. The dystopia of Furiosa has stretched so far into the imagination that the vehicles have become untethered from any real sense of what a post-apocalyptic world would actually look like. (Furiosa’s budget was reportedly $168 million, compared to an estimated $300,000 for the first movie in 1979.)

a person in a white suit standing next to a motorcycle
Jasin Boland

Take Dr. Dementus’s Roman chariot, one of Furiosa’s most striking rides. It’s built out of a fleet of motorcycles and steered with horse’s reins—clearly an allusion to Caesar’s Rome. It’s wild! Awesome! Weird! But also, totally unreal. The narrative of how it was created is nowhere in the film, whereas, in the earlier ones, the real car nerds picked up on that narrative. Because it was baked-in. That is what made those vehicles so special.

That’s also why that flash image of the Plymouth Valiant’s grille is so important. It’s the one really noticeable moment in the movie that pays tribute to the nuts-and-bolts gear head, and a reminder what we as viewers are meant to be experiencing—an actual post-apocalyptic Earth rather than a dreamscape that might as well be a planet in a Star Wars spinoff.

a group of people riding on a jeep
Jasin Boland

If it is nothing else, Furiosa is fully-engaging. It is nearly two and a half hours of max adrenaline. The amount of visual information pins you to your seat. Fans will be going back again and again, even if they now know the unexpected ending. The gear heads will come to know the vehicles by name. The movie is more entertaining than the early Mad Max efforts. But, it is less terrifying. Because lost in the mix is a vision of the post-apocalyptic world that feels real. One that we might all actually be living in, in the not-too-distant future.

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