Here it is! The second installment of our build-up to Mad Max: Fury Road! Pay close attention dear readers, as this particular Fury Friday Sequel Saturday we’re talking about the greatest of them all – Mad Max 2 AKA The Road Warrior. This is the film that would become synonymous with post-apocalyptic wasteland adventures and be the inspiration for countless other franchises and derivatives. James Cameron specifically credits this movie as
one of his influences for The Terminator and we can see homages and parodies alike scattered throughout The Simpsons, South Park, and of course the Fallout Series.
So let’s do a quick recap in case you missed the review/events of the first Mad Max film. Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) is some sort of police officer that lives in a society that is in the process of collapse. Violent gangs terrorize the highways, and it’s up to Max to avenge the death of his wife, his child, and the burning of his best friend Goose. At the end of the film, despite Max driving off in his black Ford Falcon interceptor after exacting his revenge upon the maniacal Toecutter, we’re all well aware that he has been forever changed psychologically through his ordeal.
With Mad Max 2, the story continues presumably several years after the events of the first film,except the audience encounters a world that is completely unrecognizable from that of the first Mad Max. The film opens with a vintage documentary explaining the apocalyptic chaos that ensued after the world suffered a great oil crisis. Through the use of found footage and clips from the first Mad Max, it is determined that a great cataclysm followed the gas shortage (presumably a world war) and the remaining survivors now roam the wasteland scavenging for gasoline and other supplies. Max is one such road warrior that is reintroduced and immediately thrust into action when the documentary cuts to a high-speed chase between our hero and a group of savage raiders.
Max skillfully uses his driving abilities to make short work of the raiders save for one biker named Wez (Vernon Wells) that he shoots in the arm with a crossbow bolt. Wez pulls the arrow out as he screams unintelligently at Max and then proceeds to ride off with his boyfriend/sex slave/unknown passenger riding bitch. Eventually Max stumbles upon a Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence) who tells him of a nearby oil refinery that is still operational. Upon investigation, they find the rest of the raider group – led by the towering Lord Humungus (Kjell Nilsson) – harassing a defended compound in an attempt to secure the precious fuel.
Some stuff happens, there’s a feral kid with a boomerang, and basically the story leads up to Max volunteering to drive a tanker truck for the good folks within the compound. What follows is basically one long car chase scene featuring dozens of raider-driven vehicles sparring with Max and the tanker. There’s a fun little twist at the end and the fans then continue enjoying Max’s adventures many years later in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.
So what makes this film so iconic and worthy of being the ‘best’ film in the series? Well for one thing, it’s the film that finally reached a broader American audience. After the disastrous marketing and limited distribution of the first movie in American cinemas, Mad Max was still relatively unknown by the general stateside public – despite it having an established following in its native Australia and in Europe. Fearing that audiences would be confused by seeing Mad Max 2 when in all likelihood they probably missed Mad Max 1, the studio rebranded the film as The Road Warrior and included the explanatory opening documentary. At least they had the good sense this time to not dub over the Australian accents with American actors…
For all intents and purposes, all three Mad Max films could just as easily be treated as independent stories rather than being some sort of trilogy. Other than a few minor details and continuity elements, pretty much all three just say ‘fuck it’ and throw aside their internal logic. Road Warrior is no exception as it’s more or less devoid of character development and has a wafer-thin story. There is minimal dialogue, and amazingly its lead star – Mel Gibson – famously only has 16 pieces of dialogue in the entire film! Director George Miller basically admitted to making up the story as they went along and thay he wanted to make a film that would easily be understood by everyone instead of some complex futuristic narrative.
I want someone who has never seen the film to conduct an experiment where they turn off the audio and see if they can figure out everything that is going on in the film. Just forget that you’ve read anything else in this review. The story should come pretty easily as Miller’s use of visual cues and Gibson’s expressionistic acting go a long way in steering things along. The survivors in the compound are all dressed in white outfits while the raiders are all in black leather and wearing ridiculous accessories. These clearly represent two paths that Max can choose as he wanders alone through the wasteland. Civilization vs. Anarchy is one of the predominant themes in the original trilogy, and if the trailer for the upcoming Fury Road is at all indicative of its story, we should see these ideals carry through to the 4th installment – only with a mind-blowing amount of awesomeness.
This is the film folks remember because – much in the spirit of the MM1 – it continues to break all the rules and is uncompromisingly over-the-top. It’s literally as though the writers sat down and refined all the good elements of the first Mad Max into an adrenaline rush of a sequel. It may have a simple story, but it takes the fast cars, daring stunts, and ridiculous villains and puts them all on steroids. I guess that means Fury Road is on bath salts? Someone from the drug community weigh in.
Gibson is transformed from the handsome young man in the first feature to a tough-as-nails action hero that is constantly hardened by his harsh surroundings. You know – it’s just your average story of a loner that has to rise to be a champion of the oppressed. He does battle with one-dimensional villains and ultimately becomes the timeless hero that audiences celebrate generation after generation. Think Clint Eastwood from the Dollars trilogy only clad in a ragged leathery uniform and armed with a sawed-off shotgun.
The Mad Max series is at its core a modern evolution of the classic American western – except with fast cars instead of horses. As if the desolate – though beautifully filmed – wasteland settings weren’t enough to conjure up images of beloved John Ford films or nameless heroes, Miller goes so far as to place subtle homages to some of the classics. For instance Max’s relationship with the feral kid is clearly a reference to the 1953 classic Shane and there are a lot of narrative similarities to Kurosawa films, Spaghetti Westerns, etc.
Miller takes the classic themes examined from these frontier stories and infuses them with bizarre and nonsensical elements that have become hallmarks of the franchise. There’s a strange homoerotic subtext found especially in The Road Warrior as the villains for some strange reason have all decided to cobble together costumes that blend bondage attire with an afternoon shopping-spree at the local sporting goods store. Wez for instance is wearing ass-less leather chaps, football armor, black feathers and sporting a fiery-red mohawk when clearly none of these things logically should be worn in a desert-like environment. I think it’s safe to assume Fury Road has the costume elements more than covered, wouldn’t you say? Did anyone else notice that vagina-teeth chastity belt in the trailer? Ouch!
Of all three original Mad Max films, Mad Max 2 seems to be the primary influencer on where George Miller looks to be taking the franchise. Fury Road appears to focus predominantly on outlandish characters and settings much like Road Warrior, but it is still grounded in the ever important car chases and thematic exploration of order vs. chaos. Expect to see a mastery of detail in addition to the inclusion of CGI that only serves to enhance the use of established practical effects. Don’t think of it as simply a James Bond-esque continuation of a franchise, but instead the film that George Miller clearly always wanted to make. Considering Fury Road has been in development for over a decade and arriving 30 years after the last franchise installment, I think it’s safe to say it will put the first three films to shame in terms of scale, mayhem, and absurdity.
The Bottom Line:
This is one of the most iconic movies in cinematic history…so….you know – see it without delay. There is no doubt that it has been a powerful influence on countless other franchises in addition to solidifying Mel Gibson as one of the great action actors over the last couple decades. Mad Max 2 should be on the top of any sci-fi fan’s list and specifically on the lists of wasteland warriors who love the post-apocalyptic genre.
Watch it for the ridiculousness of the characters, costumes, vehicles, etc. and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. Ever wonder what sort of damage a metallic boomerang would inflict? How about seeing a raging muscular giant in an S&M costume driving a car tricked out with nitro? If you’re looking to get caught up on the franchise, this is the film to see as it will no doubt be heavily borrowed from in Miller’s latest installment of Fury Road.