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Mad Max Trilogy Review
With the newly released Mad Max: Fury Road, I thought I’d give a brief review of each of the Mel Gibson era Mad Max films. I’m still new to this franchise, so those of you that are much more familiar with the Mad Max films will probably have more knowledge in regards to the details surrounding these films. In fact, I’ve only watched these films once, so much of my review may be a little misconstrued. Sometimes it’s better to watch films two or three times to really grasp the intricacies associated with it. But, overall, a new Mad Max fan has been born.
Mad Max (1979)
George Miller’s Mad Max starring a young, fresh-faced Mel Gibson in his second movie role and a gang of wily, “freakish” Australians is a testosterone-filled film with enough wild car chases to make the cast of The Fast and Furious blush in humility. Beyond the car chases, this is a film centered on revenge and perhaps one of the best of 70s era revenge thrillers along with Death Wish, Straw Dogs and a host of others. This movie gives us a pre-requisite to Mel Gibson’s Martin Riggs character from the Lethal Weapon series. A once normal law enforcer driven to a quiet, unadulterated rage through devastating circumstances becoming a mythical figure, an Australian Man with No Name trekking the vast deserts of post-Apocalyptic Australia hell-bent on wreaking havoc on those who dare cross his path.
This movie begins with a high-octane car chase with Australia’s Main Force Patrol pursuing the outrageous and crafty villain, “Night-Rider”. This is by far one of the best, rapid-pulse inducing car chases I’ve seen in the movies; one that no doubt influenced the Fast and Furious franchise. It’s cartoonish, over-the-top and opens this film with enough zing to capture any action film lover’s attention. Funnily enough, as I was watching this, I thought how great it would have been to incorporate an AC/DC-Bon Scott era soundtrack into this opening act as well into the entire film. In fact, our villain, Night-Rider, cites the lyrics to the classic AC/DC song, Rocker, from their exceptional album Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.
After skillfully evading the members of the Main Force Patrol, our wild and crazy Night-Rider is driven to a mess of tears and self-pitying blubbering when “Mad” Max Rockantanksy engages him in a game of “chicken” and a high-speed tail chase sending him into a fiery auto-crash ending his reign of road-terrorism. With our film perfectly set up with a thrilling opening, we are introduced to the real baddies of the film, an amoral group of bikers called The Acolytes whose sole purpose is to essentially raise hell in this doomsday wonderland; they rape, pillage and reign in this no man’s lands through inducing fear into the normal, law-abiding folk of Australia. They’re led by the psychopathic Toe-Cutter, a villain devoid of empathy performed to perfection by actor, Hugh Keays Byrne (who might I add is also playing the big-bad in the newly released, Mad Max: Fury Road). Toe-Cutter and his violent gang of Acolytes are the catalyst for turning law-abiding Max Rockantanksy into Mad Max. Initially, they leave Max in a state of disillusionment towards general law and order after mortally injuring his friend and partner, Goose, but drive him into a state of perpetual, eerily cold madness after brutally murdering his family setting us for a for a revenge-climax that would make Charles Bronson proud.
Mad Max chases the Night Rider
This is truly one of the best 70s action/revenge films I’ve seen with its balls-to-the-wall, take no prisoners hyper-violent action and heart-pounding thrills. However, unlike many of the generic sub-standard action films, Mad Max also gives us a look into a normal man driven to vengeful madness. This transformation is slowly built upon throughout the movie. Max Rockantansky goes from loyal member of his police force into a brief state of disillusionment, until being forcibly pulled back into the fray where he belongs because it’s who he is, a common theme we’ve also seen in the Dirty Harry, Rambo and Dark Knight films. The film has definitely left an imprint of its legacy not only on other standard action films, but also on the first Saw film where writer Leigh Whannell influenced the sole plot of that film around the final scene of Mad Max, where Max hand-cuffs the ankle of the Acolyte’s sole survivor to a vehicle set with a time-delayed fuse and leaves him a hacksaw coldly telling the doomed henchman, “The chain in those handcuffs is high-tensile steel. It'd take you ten minutes to hack through it with this. Now, if you're lucky, you could hack through your ankle in five minutes. Go.” Brutal stuff.
If you haven’t watched the first Mad Max, give it a go. It’s a mad, good time.
RATING: 9 out of 10
Mad Max Ending
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
Max Max 2: The Road Warrior turns up the volume in comparison to the first Mad Max. The landscape looks more like it’s been ravaged from a nuclear holocaust. We’re given a brand new group of colorful, deranged villains who ride motorcycles scavenging whatever natural resources are left to be had. The film also trumps the original in regards to the crazy, eye-popping action scenes. The aesthetic feel of the film is somewhat different from the first, where there still tended to be some normalcy present in the Australian environment. But, “Mad” Max Rockantanksy is still in the same state resulting from the devastating circumstances endured in the previous film; he’s described as a “burnt-out, shell of a man”, void of humanity, in the opening monologue of Road Warrior.
In true Mad Max fashion, we start with an epic car-chase through the deserted landscape of Australia, with Max and his cattle-dog companion escaping a gang of three crazed bikers led by a nut-job with a Mohawk called “Wez”. Able to effectively eliminate two of the gang members and to inadvertently wound Wez, Max is left stranded in the desert with his Pursuit Special low on fuel. Seeking fuel in the desert, Max encounters the Gyro-Captain played by Bruce Spence who hams it up with a quirky, scene-stealing giddiness, who attempts to stage an unsuccessful ambush on Max. In exchange for his life, the Gyro-Captain informs Max that he knows of a petroleum compound where Max can get fuel for his hot-rodded Pursuit Special. Unfortunately, a new gang of muscle-headed bikers led by the “Ayatollah of Rock N Rollah” called “The Humongous” who looks like a cross between a Roman Empire gladiator and Jason Voorhees, is terrorizing the citizens who have made the oil refinery their temporary homestead. Although his sole purpose is to leave with as much fuel as he can carry, Max reluctantly joins the defenders of the compound to battle against the threat The Humongous’s gang poses towards them.
Mad Max meets the Gyro Captain
This movie essentially looks into how Max goes from being a burnt-out shell of a man to rediscovering his humanity. The group present at the petroleum compound offer Max a way out of out of his plight which involves extracting himself from the “trash” of the new post-apocalyptic world they live in and progressing forward to a brighter future where a new world can be built. However, as mentioned in my review of the original Mad Max, Max is a character who is destined to be a lone wolf, one that is stuck mentally in a post-apocalyptic Limbo between the industrious, law-abiding old world and the burgeoning potential of the new, developing world. He’s a post-apocalyptic western mythological figure of whom stories are told in future generations.
I found Road Warrior to be an enjoyable sequel, although my preference is still with the original and its simple, well-told story of vengeance. Road Warrior tends to lean more towards the action-heavy side with a minor short-coming on focused story-telling. But, that being said, this is still just as much fun as the original. We’re given a handful of colorful characters and elaborate action set pieces to fuel the fun aspects of this film. We’re also given a story of a man who is beyond a one-dimensional action film character in Max Rockantansky. Although rough and wary at the beginning of the movie, it’s through Max’s unlikely alliance with others including former-enemy, The Gyro Captain, where Max is able to rediscover his humanity through fighting against an evil whose destiny is halt and destroy the attempts of those looking for a brighter future in a bleak world that revolves around the concept of necessary evil. But, of course, as the members of the petroleum compound escape to their new future, Max stays behind preferring to drift aimlessly into the deserts of doomsday Australia seeking his next adventure.
RATING: 8 out of 10
Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome
Beyond Thunderdome was the third and final Mad Max film released before this year’s Mad Max: Fury Road. Although well-reviewed by critics, it has a mixed reaction towards fans of the franchise mostly due to its deviation in tone compared to the previous films in the franchise. Much like the general mixed consensus of Mad Max fans, I too, have mixed feelings towards this entry. There’s a lot of decent material here, but this film tends to wander aimlessly, much like Mad Max himself, into strange territory which leaves its audience in a state of bewilderment. Plus, what is the deal with the Tina Turner soundtrack!? I understand that Turner was cast as the main villain in this film, but was it entirely necessary to include music by Tina Turner in the opening credits? What happened to the plain black and white opening credits with the ominous score by Australian composer, Brian May? Ok, ok, it’s a tiny detail, but for me and in all respect to Miss Turner and her music, this didn’t seem to mesh well with the bleak outlook of the two previous Mad Max films.
After being robbed of his primary transportation and belongings by a pilot who looks a lot like the Gyro Captain (Bryan Spence reprising a role similar to his character in Road Warrior), Mad Max Rocktansky is led to a scroungy little underworld called Bartertown ruled by Tina Turner’s deliciously sexy, but merciless “Aunty Entity”. Bartertown is run on the spoils of a methane derived from pig-shit, the spoils of which are run by a dwarf called “Master” (he’s intelligent) and meat-head “Blaster” (he’s dumb); they’re the dynamic duo known as “Master Blaster”. Master Blaster has been causing some trouble for power-hungry Aunty and she requests Max to provoke a confrontation with these two to be settled in the “Thunderdome”, a circular cage where differences are resolved amongst others in a fight to the death. After defeating “Blaster” in the Thunderdome and discovering he is mentally challenged, Max refuses Aunty’s order to kill Blaster and in result is sent rolling on the river (had to get a Tina Turner reference in here) in the desert bound and gagged atop of a horse. Max is rescued by a group of youngsters whose parents survived a plane crash. They mistakenly identify him as the pilot of this airplane and attempt to persuade him to take them to a civilized place called “Tomorrow-morrow Land”. Max tries to explain to these lost children that civilization is a thing of the past, but is generally unsuccessful. Of course, kids don’t listen…they take off into the vast wilderness anyways encountering danger which puts Max in the begrudging position of rescuing them. Exhausted and lacking resources, Max and his group of post-apocalyptic Goonies decide to infiltrate Bartertown which results in a climax with a high speed car chase.
Ok…First, the good. I felt Tina Turner delivered a performance of a great villain. I found it highly unlikely that Turner could portray a villain, but she delivers the goods here. She’s not over the top and melodramatic compared to the baddies in the first two Mad Max films. She’s actually quite charming underneath that gorgeous smile which disguises a sinister urge to ruthlessly overtake Bartertown. Also, the fight with “Blaster” in the Thunderdome is thrilling and original as both Max and Blaster swing across the cage on their bungee cords attempting to demolish one another. More, the final car chase in the climax, a staple of this series, is wholly satisfying. But, with many of the good elements associated with this film, there are parts of this movie that slow its roll and most of this is to blame on the sub-plot with Max saving the group of youngsters abandoned by their parents in the fruitless search of civilization. This entire plot reminded me too much of Peter Pan which, for me, took away heavily from the somber tones of the previous two Mad Max films. More, there is too much of a repeat of the plot of Road Warrior where Max helped the petroleum compound defenders against The Humongous and his gang in order for them to build a new future; only this time Max is aiding a group of kids escape a world of deterioration so they can build a new society.
In all honesty, I believe this film could have been improved by focusing more upon the elements of Bartertown and Thunderdome, and eschewing the subplot of the abandoned children which tended to halt the progression of the film. It could have been created into a terrific, action-packed prison escape film with bombastic, post-apocalypse Gladiator duels in the Thunderdome thrown into the mix. But, instead a significant portion of the film goes off the wayward path where Max has to play a domineering father and protector to a group of children. So again, while this film contained some good moments, there were other parts of it that smelled like pig-shit.
RATING: 6 out of 10