George Miller did 5 things to make Furiosa an essential prequel instead of a cash grab

Making a Hollywood prequel is often seen as a studio grasping for profits or audience recognition, years after an initially successful project. There have been plenty of maligned examples over the years, like the three Star Wars prequel films — which are now being reconsidered as enjoyable parts of a larger-than-ever galaxy — or Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien universe in Prometheus and Alien: Covenant.

The newest player in the ever-ongoing prequel IP landscape is Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, which transports viewers back to George Miller’s Wasteland for the origin story of the titular young warrior, and her journey to becoming the fierce, fearsome Imperator we saw in Mad Max: Fury Road. The movie is a strange, successful journey through the Wasteland that earns its place as a necessary addition to the series — and to the small canon of Hollywood prequels that are worth your while. Let’s talk about why this prequel is valuable to fans, among so many that add little to nothing to a franchise.

Furiosa wasn’t written as an afterthought

Furiosa as a child (Alyla Browne) kneels next to a motorcycle and looks up fearfully at an unseen figure who’s grabbed her arm in George Miller’s Furiosa Image: Warner Bros. Entertainment/YouTube

Something that immediately marks Furiosa out from its fellow prequels is the fact that the story and screenplay were written before Fury Road even came out. “This movie was written when we were preparing Fury Road,” Miller explained at an early screening of the film in Los Angeles. “We realized that because that’s a story that basically happens over three days and two nights, all the content, all the subtext, all the exposition has to be done on the run. So in order to tell it cohesively, we had to know everything that happened before, so we wrote the story of Furiosa.”

The screenplay that became the final film was shared with all the creative team who worked on Fury Road, setting up a continuity that most prequels lack, as well as an origin story that was decisively connected to the film that came before it. That’s a far cry from most modern prequels, which are usually late-stage cash grabs. Furiosa was always part of the Fury Road world, and we see that in the way the world seamlessly continues from one film to the next, and the way Furiosa is filled with characters and locations from Fury Road, like the Citadel and Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme).

Its creative journey allowed it to evolve

Furiosa as a child (Alyla Browne) sits in a cage at night, holding onto the bars, wearing a muzzle and a drape over her head in George Miller’s Furiosa Image: Warner Bros. Entertainment/YouTube

Furiosa’s origin didn’t move directly from behind the scenes of Fury Road to the new film we’re receiving this year. It was developed as a potential anime series, and the live-action movie still carries some detail from that version. It’s a great example of how the film has grown and shifted over the years, and how Miller is willing to envision his stories in different mediums.

It’s worth noting that alongside that original Furiosa screenplay, Miller also wrote one about Max’s life leading into the film. While that story might seem like the obvious one to turn into a prequel, at the LA screening he revealed it instead became a novella called The Wasteland, whereas his origin about Furiosa became a full screenplay with concept art. That creative journey’s current final result is highly efficient about what Miller and co-writer Nico Lathouris choose to show us, focusing on major emotional turning points in Furiosa’s life without dwelling too long on any one moment.

Furiosa is a character whose backstory is actually important

Furiosa (Anya Taylor-Joy), in a bulky leather outfit, hangs onto the undercarriage of the War Rig during a high-speed chase in George Miller’s Furiosa Image: Warner Bros. Entertainment/YouTube

Charlize Theron’s performance as Furiosa was so game-changing that it reframed a decades-old franchise, revitalizing it and putting a story about a heroic woman and her quest for vengeance and justice at its center. Because we only got to spend three days with her rampaging across the Wasteland in Fury Road, plenty of viewers wanted more. While we’d already met Max in his three previous films, there were no other tales of Furiosa to revisit, which singles out the film as something different from, say, Solo: A Star Wars Story, a prequel where we already knew a lot about the main character when he was young, thanks to the original Star Wars trilogy.

Furiosa also doesn’t sweeten the character or soften her edges — unlike, for instance, Paul King’s prequel Wonka, which erases all the danger and strangeness that are part and parcel with a character who’s willing to torture children to teach them moral lessons. That film recast Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’s infinitely creepy chocolatier as a sweet, charming, whimsical fellow who would be lost in the original text of Roald Dahl’s often horrifying kids’ books.

Furiosa, on the other hand, isn’t aimed at kids. Its R rating and its brutal approach puts its lead through the paces, allowing her to be full of rage, fury, and violence in a way women in action cinema often aren’t afforded.

The choice to recast rather than de-age

Furiosa (Anya Taylor-Joy), sweaty and wild-haired, grits her teeth as she stares upward at an ally in George Miller’s Furiosa Image: Warner Bros. Entertainment/YouTube

With Hollywood’s increased reliance on VFX to alter actors’ appearances, it’s surprisingly refreshing to see Miller rely on great casting to depict Furiosa’s early years. Like River Phoenix in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Alyla Browne remakes an iconic role in a convincing, memorable way, delivering fantastic scenes full of emotion.

It’s even more impressive considering Furiosa’s notoriously sparse dialogue, with growls, grunts, and expressions telling more of Furiosa’s story than her words do. Miller pays strong attention to continuity here, with Browne as child Furiosa and Anya Taylor-Joy as young adult Furiosa clearly on the same page when it comes to how to depict the title character. The result is a seamless transition for the character from stage to stage of life, keeping the suspension of disbelief fully intact as Miller immerses us in Mad Max’s wild world.

Miller has referenced films like The Irishman and Gemini Man as the reasons he chose not to cast Theron in the role and use VFX on her face. Both of those films’ use of de-aging arguably distract from the story at hand, and the choice to cast Taylor-Joy keeps Furiosa from falling into the same trap. There are no surface distractions from the central story, which is lucky, as it’s stuffed with action set-pieces, unusual characters, and an emotional engine it’s not afraid to rev.

The widened world adds to the original, instead of dampening its impact

A closeup of Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme), in skull-patterned breathing mask, in George Miller’s Furiosa Image: Warner Bros. Entertainment/YouTube

Lackluster prequels often leave fans wondering, Did these new details really add anything worthwhile to this world? — cough, midi-chlorians, cough. But Furiosa’s brutal backstory doesn’t suffer from this predicament. Instead of defanging or overexploring Mad Max’s Wasteland, Furiosa expands on the long-running lore that provides intriguing new insights into different corners of the world.

Miller’s 1979 series launcher Mad Max was a tight slice of the lore and world he was introducing, and each film that came after it slightly widened that slice of the post-apocalyptic pie. In Fury Road, he expanded the world with a new set of characters and a new villain, Immortan Joe, but still kept the efficient scope of just a single wild journey over three days. With Furiosa, Miller widens the lens on the entire world over multiple years, showcasing the fragmented origins of the Wasteland and teasing just how the world ended up like this. We’re also introduced to multiple new characters and factions without any overexplanation, and they all feel like they could be ripe to explore further.

There’s an added contextual weight here, too, with future viewings of Fury Road permanently changed by the events of Furiosa. Glimpsing the idyllic utopia of Furiosa’s youth provides a bright spot of hope in an otherwise bleak landscape. And better understanding the Citadel’s high-stakes “guzzolene” runs gives us a unique look at both the culture and business of the terrifying desert community. Furiosa leaves us with a more holistic impression of life in the Wasteland and of Mad Max’s reality.

As Hollywood battles to understand and predict what its audience wants in 2024, perhaps it can learn something from Furiosa. While it could be hard for some IP-based adaptations to go as wildly off-road as Miller does with the fifth entry in his Road Warrior franchise, they’d benefit from at least adopting some of his courage. If other prequel-makers dared to step out of the boxes they’re often squashed into — maybe introduce new characters, new eras, even a new tone to their movies, anything to make those movies matter — then “prequel” would stop being such a dispiriting word for fans of unique, innovative movies.