This feature contains spoilers for Mad Max: Fury Road.
“Where must we go, we who wander the wasteland, in search of our better selves?”
– The First History Man
When Mad Max: Fury Road came to cinemas last year, it was the culmination of a 15 year development process that encompassed recasting, budget problems, and a location change to a whole different continent. But out of the lengthy and troubled production came one of 2015’s very best films, which earned universally positive reviews from critics and was nominated for ten Academy Awards, of which it won six.
Speculation about the next Mad Max movie has swirled ever since, especially as director George Miller has mentioned that they generated enough material making Fury Road to make two more movies, tentatively titled Furiosa and The Wasteland.
“In this process, we had dug down deep into the backstory, not only of the characters, but of every vehicle,” Miller told Top Gear. “How the steering wheels became religious artefacts and things like that. So we ended up with two scripts, without really trying. We’re talking to the studio about it as we speak, but which one of the two stories will happen next, I’m not so sure.”
The rumors reached fever pitch last month when Australia’s Herald Sun reported that the prequel about Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa was going into pre-production later this year. We’re not sure about this, not least because Miller has repeatedly stated that while a return to the Mad Max universe is on the cards, he wants to make something smaller in scope beforehand.
Elsewhere, both Tom Hardy and cinematographer John Seale, who came out of retirement for Fury Road, have spoken enthusiastically about the prospect of a sequel. While it might not be coming as soon as the next couple of years, we’ll likely see more of the world at some point.
But looking both before and after Fury Road, there’s still plenty more ground to be covered for the various players. Some of it has been covered in Vertigo’s prequel comics, which were storylined by Miller and received a mixed reception, and other parts are questions we have remaining after Fury Road. Looking at each of the characters and people involved, here’s our look at what our next journey to the Mad Max universe might entail.
How did Max get down from the platform once it started going up? Never mind, that’s not the question that we’re left with by his final scene in Fury Road. Having supported Furiosa and the brides in their quest to topple the tyrannical Immortan Joe, he chooses to leave the Citadel with only a brief look back, going back out into the Wasteland to try and find his way.
In each of the Mad Max sequels to date, the story has been about the people he has helped as he travels around the devastated land, with Max himself taking on a mythic status that was cemented by the ending of Beyond Thunderdome and then taken further in Fury Road, with the change of actor and other minor continuity differences lending to the notion that these movies are second or third hand stories of a folk hero in the aftermath of the apocalypse.
He still has an arc in Fury Road, having become more feral and removed from humanity than when we knew him last and the two prequel comics that focus on Max chart his journey to the first shot of the film, involving an encounter in a Thunderdome and his failure to save a mother and her daughter from Buzzards. Given how he doesn’t cross paths with Furiosa and other characters until the movie, there’s little we can see him doing in a prequel focused on her backstory.
Miller has ruled out a return for original star Mel Gibson, and Hardy is contracted for at least two sequels, so perhaps his involvement in a prequel might be in more of an anthology style. The prequel comic issues that focused on Max were better received than certain other issues and if they’re canon in Miller’s story, perhaps we might see an adaptation of this running parallel to Furiosa.
Then again, with the aforementioned looseness of continuity, there’s no reason why a sequel might not also come up with completely different circumstances in which Max meets characters from Fury Road. The sequels have all been vastly different from one another so far, so Max can go anywhere after he leaves the Citadel.
But in contrast to the Max issues and the Immortan Joe issue, which chronicled how he conquered the Citadel while still a former army colonel leading a ragtag army around the wasteland, the prequel comic that focused on the lives of Furiosa and the Wives in the Citadel came in for criticism from most quarters.
While Fury Road makes the women autonomous in their decision to escape the Citadel, the comic retcons a lot of this, on one hand painting Furiosa as an exceptional female, while on the other hand relegating the Wives to damsels who, for some reason, need motivating to leave their miserable lives of sex slavery. Miller receives story credit on all of the comics, but the film has much more nuance than the comics.
The mooted prequel would probably go further back in time, rather than dramatising the lead-up to stealing the War Rig and smuggling the Wives away. There’s an inherent danger that prequels can either retread information we already know or dramatise events that we didn’t need to see and that’s something to be careful of here.
Do we need to know how Furiosa lost her arm, for instance? She’s a fascinating character, but that’s partly because we only know a little more about her than we do about Max, and the comic was rightly lambasted for making certain details about the way Immortan Joe treated her and the Wives explicit when the film got far more out of not dwelling on the things that have happened to them.
Without referring too much to another entirely different prequel starring Charlize Theron, retconning around the story might err a little closely to something like The Huntsman: Winter’s War, a royal mess of a story that took place before, during and after the events of the Snow White film that spawned it. In Miller we trust and all that, but the intrinsic problems with prequel storytelling may still apply to a character who was universally loved by audiences.
Furiosa was such a strong breakout character that it’s hard to imagine that a Mad Max film that doesn’t involve her in some way or another and if a prequel or spin-off is the only way to go, we’re still going to see it. If a sequel does buck the format and bring her in as a returning character, there can still be other challenges in rebuilding a world after overthrowing the patriarchy of the Citadel.
George Miller and other characters
All of this said, the main player in the future of Mad Max is George Miller, and the speculation has gone back and forth a lot over the last 12 months. Back in January, it was widely reported that he had drawn a line under the series, only for him to clarify his comments later in the same week. But with a bumper global box office and six Oscars under his belt for his last film, the ball’s in his court and we’ve had hints of the ideas he has for characters other than Max and Furiosa.
While Immortan Joe and Nux’s story is comprehensively finished between Fury Road and the prequel comic in which they feature, but they’re not the only interesting characters to revisit. Australian actress Joy Smithers, who played one of the Vuvalini, has previously alluded to reading one version of the prequel script in which the women who raised Furiosa would feature prominently.
The backstory that Miller generated during the process of making Fury Road is so dense and detailed that he’s even got an origin story for the film’s other breakout character – the Doof Warrior, the blind, mute guitarist who fronted Immortan Joe’s convoy of War Rigs.
“How does someone weak survive the apocalypse?” Miller mused in an interview with Fandango. “He survived because he was blind – because he lived deep in an unlit mine, where it was an advantage to be blind.”
“So, deep in the mine, he would sit there and eat rodents and get the water from the sea bed — and he would also play his guitar where no one could hear it. One day, Immortan Joe came past, and someone heard the music. Then he was called upon when he needed a bugler or the bagpipe — someone who helps call everyone to war.”
This kind of detail illustrates the difference between Fury Road and both of the previous Mad Max sequels; that it was in development for so long that it proved to be a more vast expansion of the world than anyone could have anticipated. However that material eventually makes its way into the world, the new Hardy era should continue to be as much of a departure from the previous films.
There are plenty of questions to be answered about whether the prequel comics are canon, or whether that even matters in a franchise that is so flagrant about continuity, but whenever Miller goes back to Mad Max for more, we’ll be there to witness it, all shiny and chrome.