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Should I Watch..? Mad Max 2
What's the big deal?
Mad Max 2 (also known as "The Road Warrior") is a dystopian action adventure film released in 1981 and is the second instalment of the Mad Max series. Directed once again by George Miller, the film stars Mel Gibson as the eponymous Max - an former cop now disturbed wanderer in the post-apocalyptic landscape of Australia. With gasoline running low, Max is called upon by a besieged community to save them from a vicious gang of thugs led by the enigmatic Humungus. The film deliberately tries to imitate classic Westerns from the sparse use of dialogue to the mysterious hero aiding the community. The film was widely praised upon release and has been crucial in popularising post-apocalyptic fiction in film and other mediums. It was also a box office hit and would come to be regarded as the best film in the series until the fourth instalment - Fury Road (1) - was released in 2015.
What's it about?
The film opens with a brief narration explaining what has happened between the first and second movies. After a global fuel shortage and a devastating war over resources, civilisation as we know it has all but disappeared. With fuel supplies running low, former police officer Max Rockatansky roams the wasteland in his battered V8 muscle car with only a loyal dog and a sawn-off shotgun for company. After running across a demented gang member called Wez, Max is able to destroy two vehicles before Wez flees. While Max scavenges the wreckages for fuel, he is ambushed by the Gyro Captain who owns a functioning gyrocopter.
The Captain explains to Max that there is a community nearby with a whole tanker of gasoline and that he will take Max there in exchange for his life. Sure enough, Max is led to the compound which is being besieged by a gang of raiders led by the self-proclaimed Lord Humungus and his right-hand-man, Wez. Humungus gives the terrified citizens a choice - surrender the fuel and the compound and he'll give them safe passage from the area. Determined to protect their settlement, the citizens soon find themselves asking Max for help...
"Mad" Max Rockatansky
Terry Hayes & George Miller *
Release Date (UK)
22nd January, 1982
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
What's to like?
Made before the obsessive Health & Safety goblins turned up and ruined everything, it's great to see an old-fashioned car movie that isn't afraid of turning the heat up. Mad Max 2 is possibly as good an action movie on wheels as you're likely to find - even before the gripping finale, the film offers plenty of revs and crashes for petrol-heads to enjoy. The film wisely expands on the background of this unlikely of settings and in the process, forged the basis of many post-apocalyptic stories from the excellent Fallout series of video games to more modern efforts like The Book Of Eli (2) and the aforementioned Mad Max: Fury Road.
If the film is like a twisted Western then Gibson ably steps into Clint Eastwood's shoes as the mysterious stranger called upon to do good. Even without much dialogue, his presence is more than a match than the equally enigmatic Humungus. The film also works wonders with its budget - the sets and costumes are instantly understandable and work within the film's atmosphere. Even the odd Feral Kid, snarling throughout the film, is understandable and feels proper and in the correct place. This is one of those rare films when the talent is there to not only generate a cracking piece of entertainment but also match the imagination and vision captured in the screenplay, even if it is enjoyably trashy.
- Gibson only has sixteen lines of dialogue in the entire movie and two of those lines are repeated: "I only came for the gasoline."
- The dog, who is simply named Dog, was acquired from a local dog-pound and later adopted by one of the camera operators. However, he was afraid of the engine noises used on set so he had to be fitted with special ear-plugs in case he relieved himself in the car again.
- The film was known as The Road Warrior in the US because the original film only received a limited release there. It's also why Gibson featured far less in the trailer than one may have supposed because he wasn't yet a star in America.
What's not to like?
Apart from the oddly homo-erotic costumes of the bad guys? Well, not much in truth. The film's climax is so good and thrilling that you may forget that the rest of the film doesn't quite match the same level while I would have liked a bit more from the other characters, the Gyro Captain in particular. The film seems to spend a lot of its second half with the citizens under Pappagallo's rule as they debate how to get out of their predicament. I guess that too much story-telling would have stretched the film's duration too much but it might have been nice.
The only thing that kinda spoiled the film for me was how much of it was recognisable from other sources. I never stopped calling the dog Dogmeat for the whole film (but then again, I have been playing Fallout 4 a lot lately) while characters like Humungus and Max have had their looks shamelessly ripped off by everyone from WWE wrestlers to the cast of Waterworld (3). It does mean that Mad Max 2 can feel hugely derivative at times but it's important to remember just how important and influential this film became.
Should I watch it?
An improvement on the original Mad Max (4) in every way, Mad Max 2 is a mile-a-minute blast of escapist action of the highest order. Combining brilliant film-making with charismatic performances and unbelievable set pieces, the film is one of the best action movies of the Eighties and certainly one of the most imitated. It lacks a little of the spit-and-polish that modern movies have, possibly because of a relatively small budget, but this is a remarkably strong entry in the series.
Great For: adrenaline junkies, petrol-heads, members of the BDSM community looking for wardrobe solutions, Gibson's career
Not So Great For: environmentalists, cyclists
What else should I watch?
Next up for the unfortunate Max was Beyond Thunderdome (5), an equally entertaining film which sees Gibson go up against a revelatory Tina Turner in the hellish community of Bartertown. Despite some accusing the series of selling out, the film still proved a hit with critics. The series then shut down for thirty years before being jolted back to life by the exceptional Fury Road with Tom Hardy replacing Gibson as the star. Invoking the madness of this film and resisting the urge to shoot the action with CG, the film brings the series bang up to date with some critics claiming it to be one of the best action flicks of all time...
These days, motor movies are more concerned with screaming tyres and engines than deeper themes. The inexplicably successful Fast And Furious series rumbles ever on with each film getting more bloated, more loaded with A-list stars and racking in more money than ever. But no matter how good the (CG) stunts are, the films lack the mysticism of something like Vanishing Point (6) , the goofy charm of Smokey And The Bandit (7) or even the tension encapsulated by Steve McQueen leaping all over San Francisco in a vintage Mustang in Bullitt (8).
© 2016 Benjamin Cox