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The ‘Mad Max’ saga treads water with frustrating ‘Furiosa’

A scene from “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” (Warner Bros. Pictures)

At the beginning of “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga,” we are introduced to a kick-ass woman who rides a horse, then a motorbike, nails a few bad guys with sharpshooting finesse and fights off a mob. But it’s not Furiosa — it’s her mom. That’s one of the oddities of this latest offering in the Mad Max Cinematic Universe: Creator and director George Miller has taken the coolest role of 2015’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” and built a whole prequel around her yet has her overshadowed by everyone else.

The adult Furiosa — a coiled, clenched Anya Taylor-Joy — only appears after the first hour-mark — we get way too much preteen Furiosa — and she’s meek for another quarter of the film. We, frankly, wanted more. Charlize Theron as Furiosa promised a “Top Gun” swagger yet Taylor-Joy mostly does furious side eye.

What goes into making adult Furiosa is very unpleasant: She endures childhood kidnapping and torture, goes mute, passes herself as a boy, gets traded for gas, works her way up a madman’s hierarchy and only in the final scenes does she have real agency. We do learn how her left hand was maimed and that she was sweet on a guy. But making her mute? In her own movie?

Back are some familiar, scarred faces — Immortan Joe, The People Eater and a legion of half-naked War Boys. The new mega villain is Chris Hemsworth’s Dementus, who has a hunger for human blood sausage and a knack for spectacularly murdering people who Furiosa cares about.

The best action sequence happens at the halfway point — not a good omen — with a 15-minute sequence inside, over and under a barreling silver double-tanker War Rig while it is being attacked by motorbikes, buggies and parachuting adversaries. It’s a marvel, truly, but since 2015 we’ve had cooler moments in things like “Mission: Impossible” and “Fast and Furious” so, sorry, mind not blown.

Viewers also spend time whipping through the Citadel, the Bullet Farm and Gas Town but there’s something missing, that unpredictable spark of madness, maybe. Perhaps once you’ve seen an insane guy chained to the outside of a zooming truck playing guitar solos in front of a wall of amps with fire coming out of the headstock, the shock wears off.

A large part of the problem here is that young Furiosa is on an epic hero’s quest to go home — like “The Odyssey” or any “John Wick” movie — but we know from “Fury Road” that the Green Place is no more. So “Furiosa” then just becomes a catalogue of crazy stuff that happens to her until it morphs into her cold-blooded quest for revenge. There’s no real risk either because we know Furiosa lives to team up with Tom Hardy in 2015.

It feels like with this fifth Mad Max installment, Miller is trying to add operatic heft and seriousness to what started in 1979 as a fun, rip-roaring smear of nightmarish, post-apocalyptic motor oil. In that case, “Fury Road” was fantastic, but “Furiosa” is just fine. MARK KENNEDY, MDT/AP Entertainment Writer

“Furiosa,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release which hits theaters May 24, is rated R for “sequences of strong violence, and grisly images.” Running time: 148 minutes.

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