In the not too distant future, in a post apocalyptic setting, a lone, “road” warrior is enlisted by a group of survivors to help them break free of a wasteland inhabited by gangs bent on destroying them. In the process, Mad Max will rediscover his own humanity.
In 1979, first time director, George Miller, completed MAD MAX. Shot for $350,000, MAD MAX would go on to make over $100 million dollars world-wide and catapult its unknown lead, Mel Gibson, to international stardom. Yet, Miller and his production partner, Byron Kennedy, walked away from the experience dissatisfied. The shoot had been a brutal and dark experience for both. However, with MAD MAX’s international success, the “mythology” of Max would not go away. Yet, both Kennedy and Miller would not create a sequel unless the film would be a quantum leap over its predecessor. What they produced was 1981’s MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR, a movie that transcends their original in its action and scope, focus and character.
The ROAD WARRRIOR opens with a narrated montage explaining that the world has fallen into chaos because “two mighty warrior tribes went to war and touched off a blaze that engulfed them all.” Society is gone. Fuel is gone. “Only those strong enough to scavenge, brutal enough to pillage would survive.” We also learn of Max. Both his child and wife are brutally murdered by a vicious motorcycle gang. Once an idealistic police officer, Max has become the mere shell of a human being forever wandering the bitter roads of the wasteland. It is on this road that we reacquaint ourselves with Max as he and his trusted canine companion encounter vicious road marauders. Through an incredible stunt sequence (Max Aspin – stunt coordinator) of crashing cars and dynamic camera angles which capture the movement and action, Max survives the encounter. It should be noted that all of these stunts are performed on location without the help of computer effects so prevalent in today’s movies and the “old school” visuals make a distinct difference in the kinetics of the scene. Also, in this sequence, we are introduced to what will become one of the main villains, the vicious and terrifying Wez. During the encounter, Wez had been shot with an arrow. As Max uses all that he can scavenge to rescue the escaping gasoline from the damaged vehicles, we hear Wez scream from atop the hill as he pulls out
However, what I find to be the most significant tool used to transform Max is the character of the gyro captain played by the incredible Bruce Spence. In fact, you can say that Spence’s character is almost an acting force of spirituality in the Christian sense. There is the “tempting” of Max from the snake on the gyro captain’s aircraft. As Max captures the snake, the gyro captain comes up from the ground and shakes off the dirt from the earth, the filth truly bothers him. It is through the snake that the gyro captain obtains Max’s full attention. Then there is the promise of heaven. It is through the gyro captain that Max learns of the group of survivors who are processing oil, gasoline…as much as he’d like. He assures Max that if there is anyone that is going to get in there and get the gasoline, it will be Max because he is a man of “ingenuity”. It is also, the gyro captain that constantly reminds Max and the viewers of the finer things in life like honesty, manners and morality. There is a terrific scene where after the gyro captain has finished the scraps of food that Max’s dog has finished eating, he pulls a handkerchief from his coat and delicately wipes his face. This is old world civility contrasting new world brutality. Spence’s character is always forgiving of Max regardless of Max’s treatment of him even saving Max’s life after warning him of the terrible mistake he is making by leaving the group to continue down the roads of the wasteland. I think it is absolutely brilliant the way that Director Miller shoots the gyro captain lifting Max out of the wreckage from that scene. Beaten, battered and smashed, Max decides on his own to help the group escape and rediscovers that where there is hope, there is life. I don’t know if writers Terry Hayes, Miller, and Brian Hannant created the gyro captain to be that spiritual bridge for the character of Max, but for those of us that marvel at this movie, it is an interesting question and one that again shows how THE ROAD WARRIOR succeeds in its unique focus and building of character.
Then there is the often talked about, incredible, outstanding, final chase sequence that finishes the movie. From start to finish, this some 13 odd minutes of solid action, incredible stunt work, unbelievable camera placement and seamless edits to this day will have you on the edge of your couch wondering just how they did it! But like all of the action contained in this movie, it serves as a distraction and in this sequence that translation is literal as you discover. This is not to say that the “distractions” are negative. In fact, it is the action that emotionally links us with the characters so that we feel their frustrations, fears and recognize their growth. Through the action they become real and not just cardboard characters furthering plot points to incredible stunt sequences. The single most important shot of the final chase sequence is a smile from Max, a once desolate man acknowledging his rekindled faith in humanity. So, did Director George Miller and Producer Byron Kennedy succeed in their ambitions for their MAD MAX sequel? ABSOLUTELY. In comparing the two films, one can see the growth in action, scope, focus and character of the series and technical precision from the filmmakers themselves. If you have never seen MAD MAX 2, do yourself a favor and enjoy a weekend with all three beginning with the 1979 original. Although I thought that MAD MAX (3) BEYOND THUNDERDOME was the weakest entry to the series, it is important to note that the seeds sown in the ROAD WARRIOR come to full fruition in THUNDERDOME proving the care and respect the filmmakers have for the character of Max and his fans worldwide.