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Based on previous roles, viewers might expect that Chris Hemsworth plays a heroic character in "Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga." He very much does not.

He's pretty much the anti-"Thor." Taylor Swift could practically be singing about his Dr. Dementus in "Anti-Hero": It's him. Hi. He's the problem. It's him.

As might be expected to happen when parents give their child the name Dementus, he's demented: a sociopathic, cannibalistic, casually wisecracking villain who murders title character Furiosa's mother within minutes of meeting the pair. Dementus, who sports a Wicked Witch of the West fake nose, spends all of "Furiosa"'s 2½ hours rampaging about something or other. Usually, that's Furiosa, a fierce warrior who is played by young Alyla Browne for a big chunk of the movie but is embodied by Anya Taylor-Joy in the last three of the movie's five chapters.

Those chapter divisions, which help "Furiosa" cover a 15-year time span, make the movie choppier and not as elegantly propulsive as the last "Mad Max" movie, "Fury Road." It's an unfair comparison — "Fury Road" is my favorite movie of this century. But even if it's not quite as good, "Furiosa" is still a breathtaking, action-packed gas.

Set in the future, in the years leading up to that last movie, "Furiosa" is the origin story of the title character, who was played by Charlize Theron in "Fury Road." In a world aptly known as the Wasteland, resources such as food and water are scarce (cabbage is a hot commodity) and three fortressed mini-kingdoms are battling for control: the Citadel, the Bullet Farm and Gastown.

It's a bleak place, summed up by occasional Furiosa ally Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke), who tells her, "This is the Wasteland. Wherever you thought you were going does not exist." (Dementus is even more succinct, shouting, "There is no hope!")

The real star of "Furiosa" is Australian director George Miller, who created all five "Mad Max" movies. There aren't many directors who understand action as well as Miller does and, like "Fury Road," "Furiosa" is filled with awe-inspiring displays of stunt work choreography. (Guy Norris has the unusual credit of "action designer.")

As in all of the "Mad Max" movies, characters seem to feel more comfortable riding on top of speeding vehicles than in them and, as in "Fury Road," the fifth film features chase scenes in which muscle-y people climb all over moving trucks, dangle off them Cirque du Soleil-style and, inevitably, get flattened under them. There's not a lot of dialogue in "Furiosa" because Miller uses movement, energy and canny editing to make sure the story is clear.

Or, at least, kind of clear. It's obvious that we are meant to think of Furiosa as a noble character but, otherwise, the movie is packed with horrendous people whose motivations are complex or baffling, depending on how charitable you feel about "Furiosa."

I feel very charitable about it, even if it's so fast and so relentless that it can be tricky to figure out who's on whose side, what they're battling for and if anyone — other than Furiosa — is actually a good guy. A second viewing may be required, and I'd be just fine with that.

'Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga'

***1/2 out of 4 stars

Rated: R for nonstop violence and strong language.

Where: In theaters.