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‘Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’ delivers plenty of action, just not as furiously as its predecessor

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

(CNN) — In a sign of its priorities – action over character, production design over story – Anya Taylor-Joy doesn’t even show up until roughly an hour into “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.” Then again, the movie’s namesake is really less the star than the dystopian Wasteland that she must navigate, which serves as the backdrop for an undeniably muscular sensory assault that’s a bit malnourished as an origin-story detour off “Fury Road.”

Director/co-writer George Miller again infuses his film with a manic energy essentially designed to power through its narrative shortcuts. The frenetic and visceral nature of that yields a series of elaborate chases with relatively modest connective tissue holding them together.

Spending almost as much time with younger versions of Furiosa as Taylor-Joy, the already-tough girl is quickly abducted from a haven called the Green Place – “a place of abundance,” as one of the raiders describes it – and taken to the warlord Dementus, played by Chris Hemsworth with an over-the-top lustiness that puts Thor to shame, even before factoring in the amusingly nasty prosthetic nose.

Motivated by revenge and exposed to all the horrors the Wasteland can offer, Furiosa winds up operating among the three fortresses of that unyielding world, including one, the Citadel, presided over by the Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme), the nightmare-faced heavy who also appeared in 2015’s Oscar-winning “Fury Road.”

After a strong start, the action becomes a bit repetitive. And while the Mad Max series has never exactly been known for its intricate plotting, the centerpiece of those movies – “The Road Warrior” – built a credible foundation, stakes and framing device for the high-octane violence.

Here, Miller and co-writer Nico Lathouris structure the film in five numbered acts (roughly 30 minutes each), which adds to its already episodic quality, causing the few major characters to disappear for stretches. Similarly, a relationship between Furiosa and an intrepid driver named Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke, who played Orson Welles in “Mank”) feels particularly tossed in from left field, though they do make a formidable pair in the carnage-causing department.

Like her predecessors leading these movies, Taylor-Joy should be grateful she’s not getting paid by the word, although she’d clean up if her compensation was linked to glowering stares. The main challenge, really, involves treating Furiosa, with her limited screen resume, as the kind of figure to foster keen curiosity about, including the details that forged her.

In some respects, “Furiosa” might be less significant for fleshing out the character originated by Charlize Theron than establishing a point of entry – and a Max-free one, no less – into one of those “universes” that all the cool studios yearn to create. (The film is distributed by Warner Bros., like CNN, a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery.)

Forty-five years after “Mad Max” introduced many to a young Aussie named Mel Gibson, Miller certainly hasn’t lost his touch as a visual stylist and mad maestro of elaborate action. In almost every other respect, this feels like one of those instances where there’s more sound than “Fury.”

“Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” premieres May 24 in US theaters. It’s rated R.

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