Furiosa and Mad Max’s parallel backstories make Fury Road even better

The Mad Max series has always thrived on reinvention. No two consecutive movies in the franchise have ever been the same, and most of them aren’t even remotely similar to each other, save for the themes of the Wasteland and the idea of a lone wanderer doing their best to survive. Furiosa, the newest movie in the series, may be the biggest exception to that rule: While the movie is explicitly a prequel to Fury Road, it draws its biggest inspirations from the original 1979 Mad Max, giving Max and Furiosa similarly tragic origin stories.

[Ed. note: This story contains spoilers for Mad Max and Furiosa.]

Five movies into the series, with each bigger, louder, and more bombastic than the last, it’s easy to forget that George Miller started Max Rockatansky’s story with a simple movie about roving gangs and a man facing a personal tragedy.

The original Mad Max starts before Australia fully descends into the Wasteland chaos the series would later be known for. While Max’s homestead, where he lives with his wife and child, isn’t as idyllic as Furiosa’s Green Place, it seems as beautiful and peaceful a place as anyone could ask for. At least, until a marauding band of highway raiders comes along. Once they arrive, they quickly kill Max’s family, setting him on a path of eternal vengeance and turning him into the Road Warrior we know him as in the rest of the films.

Mad Max Fury Road

In this way, it feels like Furiosa is almost a remake of the original movie, done up with the budget and beautiful fury Miller has spent the last 45 years perfecting. Furiosa similarly had her peaceful life stolen from her, and her closest family murdered by a gang of marauders, but Miller has adjusted the story this time. Instead of taking most of the movie to show us the bad guys and set up the deterioration of the world, Miller leans on the history of the series, letting Fury Road’s strong world-building in particular fill in the blanks for us.

We already know the important players and landmarks here: Furiosa herself, Immortan Joe, the Citadel, Gastown, and the Bullet Farm, all introduced in Fury Road. That gives Miller more time to expand on Mad Max’s most effective element: Max’s unbridled rage after his family is attacked. Miller makes Furiosa’s version of this anger the centerpiece of her movie, and turns it into an epic quest that spans more than a decade. He even gives us a similar (though infinitely more twisted) version of Max’s slow, indirect final kill in the movie, with Furiosa letting Dementus die an agonizing death inside a tree.

Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road. Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

All of these little echoes serve as excellent fodder for fans who might want to draw connections between entries in the series. But they’re even more important for deepening the relationship Max and Furiosa share in Fury Road. That movie does a tremendous job of setting up the unspoken bond the two share, like a quiet recognition that they both live with the weight of tremendous loss in their pasts. But it isn’t until we get to see those connections made explicit in Furiosa that we understand just how similar their tragedies actually are.

Furiosa is the rare prequel that does more than just tell us a character’s origin story: It deepens our understanding of the entire world she occupies. By connecting Max and Furiosa’s origins, Miller brings the entire Mad Max franchise full circle. Knowing Max and Furiosa are truly kindred spirits, created and driven by the same tragedy and rage, recontextualizes Fury Road’s ending, giving us renewed hope for Max. He’s never seemed like someone who could one day move forward into a better future, rather than just wandering the Wasteland forever — but seeing Furiosa find peace suggests he might be able to as well. But we couldn’t get to that point without Miller bridging Furiosa back to the franchise’s roots, to tap into the same energy that made Max mad in the first place.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is in theaters now.