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Furiosa: or How to do Prequels Right

If there has been any major identifiable trend in Hollywood, it has been franchise filmmaking. Every movie that is not based on an already existing franchise, and happens to be immensely popular spawns a cinematic universe of sorts, with characters getting prequel movies and sequel movies and spin-off movies, and everything in between. The necessity of these films is up for debate, but their quality is largely not that great. The success of the first Conjuring film led to the spawning of two sequels and spin-off franchises of The Nun and Annabelle characters, none of which seem to hit the highs of the first one. The success of Despicable Me has given the world enough Minions content to last a generation. So when the Mad Max franchise got a jumpstart in 2014, with Mad Max Fury Road, the question of a sequel was not a matter of 'if', but 'when'. And the answer to that was 2024, where we got Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, a spin-off that tells the backstory of one of the most compelling characters from Fury Road. But is this film just another prequel to add to the slop of content that Hollywood seemingly churns out these days? Or is it a film of its artistic merit and talent, that supplements the original?

Few careers in Hollywood have been as dynamic as that of Australian mad genius George Miller. He rose to prominence in the early eighties with the dark, twisted post-apocalyptic action film franchise Mad Max and continued with those kinds of films for a while. Later, in the nineties, he moved to a more family-friendly style of filmmaking with Babe and even won an Academy Award for Happy Feet. 2014 saw his return to the wasteland with Mad Max Fury Road, which proved to be immensely successful and was nominated for multiple awards, becoming one of the very few action movies to be seen with an air of prestige about them. Furiosa is no Mad Max. Unlike the previous films, whose primary motive is to show off incredible action and then focus on telling a compelling story (which is not to its detriment, it does both incredibly well), Furiosa tells a story first and uses the action to supplement this story. Because of this, it may seem a little slower-paced than its predecessor but it sacrifices pace for an incredibly heart-wrenching and compelling tale.

However, before we delve any further into why Furiosa works so well, we must ask ourselves what even is the purpose of a good prequel. After all, writing a prequel is a daunting task. A poorly written character-focused prequel may ruin the allure of said character. Well, a prequel is a work of literature, art, or cinema, in narrative storytelling that takes place before the events of any other piece of literature, art, or cinema, within that same cinematic universe, but it comes out after the original work. For example, The Hobbit is a prequel to Lord of the Rings as it came out after it, but tells a story that takes place before the events of Lord of the Rings. So then what does a prequel do? A prequel aims to give more context to the story of the original. This context may be in the form of character backstory, world-building, or both. Not only should it add to the existing mythos of a work of art, but also stand on its own as a separate work of art. Sticking with the previous example of The Hobbit, which gives us the backstory of Bilbo Baggins, a relatively minor character from Lord of the Rings, and his adventure, and also adds to the mythology of Middle-Earth, where both the stories are set. If we were to look at a bad prequel film, Solo: A Star Wars Story is a film that seeks to give the backstory of the character of Han Solo in Star Wars. Not only does the film demystify the character, taking away his aura from the film, but it also adds banal explanations for things that don't really need them.

So then, what does Furiosa do? Not only is it a compelling film that stands very well on its own two feet, but it also complements the Mad Max universe in a deep and meaningful way. Furiosa's character has always been tragic and we certainly feel that in Fury Road, but the new film adds another layer of depth and meaning to her. The iconic shot of Furiosa kneeling in the sand and yelling as she realises that all she has fought so hard for, all she worked for, at great risk to her personal safety is for nothing feels so much more devastating with the added context of the knowledge that it was also the last promise she made to her dying mother. Moreover, her resentment and hatred for the villain, Immortan Joe is complexified because of the abuse and dehumanization she suffers at the hands of his lackeys.

The Mad Max universe has never been a stickler for continuity, with the timeline itself being incredibly muddled and confusing. Furiosa stands unique as it adds to the mythology of this incredibly unique and detailed take on the post-apocalyptic genre. We see the inner workings of Immortan Joe's group, rival gangs, and alliances being built, all with the backdrop of a violent and brutal revenge tale. For such a story-heavy film, there are very few dialogues in it. Anya Taylor Joy, who plays the titular Furiosa, has only thirty lines in the whole film! And while that may seem like a turnoff, trust me, it is a blast. She conveys so much with simple glances, head movements, and general body language, it is quite simply astonishing. Chris Hemsworth steals the show and you can see he is having a lot of fun with his character as he plays the main villain of the film Dementus. Along with Austin Butler in Dune 2, this seems to be a great year for psychotic movie villains (though both of them are very different!).

I think what Hollywood should learn from this is that audiences don't want prequels to anything and everything that is shown in a film (looking at you, Star Wars), but what they want more is a rich and compelling story. Moreover, the story should be independent of the character. What this means is that a prequel should not feel like its only purpose is to exist in the background of things that happen in the original work. Rather, its main focus should be to tell a story that has a heart behind it that stands as its work of art, not as a subsidiary to another one. The story should also not go out of its way to explain pointless things from the original work, and if explanations must be given, they should be done in a way that compliments the story of the prequel. Furiosa losing her arm is worked naturally into the structure of the film and does not feel forced, as though it existed solely to explain why she is missing an arm in Fury Road.

Furiosa is the perfect prequel and a great story in itself. The other lesson Hollywood must learn from it is to let great artists who have been in the industry for decades and have consistently beloved works do what they want to do. These are filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and yes, George Miller. And if you are making a prequel, make it more like Furiosa and less like Solo