Tuesday, September 15, 2015

"Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior" (1981)

Starring Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence and Kjell Nilsson
Written by Terry Hayes, George Miller and Brian Hannant
Directed by George Miller
Rated R — Violence, language, nudity
Running Time: 96 Minutes

Years after the deaths of his wife and son, after civilization crumbled, Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) wanders the wasteland with only his dog as a companion, looking for food, water and juice for his modified police interceptor. When he happens across a gyrocopter pilot (Bruce Spence), he learns of a nearby refinery where the locals have more gas than they could possibly need.

But when they arrive, Max is dismayed to learn that the refinery is under siege by a war party led by Lord Humungus (Kjell Nilsson), whose gang had previously encountered Max. Humungus wants the gas, and promises to let the refinery residents go free if they give it to him. That seems unlikely.

Max, desperate for the gas, rescues one of the refiners from Humungus' men and enters the refinery, hoping to make a deal. But the refinery residents want more from Max than just the return of their dying friend. If Max wants gas, and if he wants to get out alive, he's going to have to help them escape Humungus' wrath.
Mel Gibson and George Miller return to the post-apocalyptic wasteland of "Mad Max," and they do so in spectacular fashion. This is one of those rare sequels that trumps the original in almost every way. Its narrative is simpler than its predecessor, but it's bigger and more dramatic and features one of cinema's best car chases at its climax.

Max is a different man here than he was in the first film, though he sports a leg brace thanks to the gunshot wound he suffers in the climax of the first movie and his police uniform is now patched and tattered. He's quieter, but more intense; he definitely seems to fit the "mad Max" moniker more. This works to Gibson's advantage because, let's face it, the man's always been a little too good at playing crazy.

There's also no trace of civilization. A brief prologue recaps the first movie and tells us that human society came to an end several years previous in wars over natural resources ("Fury Road" and the recent "Mad Max" videogame both do this, as well), and then we're right in the action. The good guys live in their camp that was formerly an oil refinery, now gated by a school bus with armor plates welded to it and makeshift flamethrowers and crossbows and such. Bullets, as we discover rather humorously, are a rare commodity — perhaps even more so than the precious "juice" or "guzzoline" that everyone wants so desperately.

And that's one of the major differences between "Mad Max" and "Road Warrior" — that the world has finally and completely devolved into chaos and ruin. At first glance, only Max himself seems like the tying thread between the two movies, but then there's that sense of progression. With a larger budget, Miller is able to craft a bigger and more desperate movie, one that is more confident in its own wildness and doesn't need to ease people into anything or trick them into thinking this movie is bigger than it is.

The violence is harsher, as is the world in which the characters do their violent things. And to be fair, everyone here is violent in some manner. Even the cowardly gyrocopter captain has his own methods of fighting Humungus' gang. There are a number of great sequences, right from the start, but central to it all is the climactic extended chase as Max drives an oil tanker and is attacked by Humungus' entire gang.

It's the kind of sequence that makes a movie famous and that's exactly what happened here. This kind of vehicular mayhem made the "Road Warrior" a classic that's generally regarded as one of the greatest action films ever made, and it absolutely earns that reputation on the final act alone. Three decades later, of course, Miller would take some of the basic ideas in this single chase sequence and build an entire movie out of it in "Fury Road," but for a long time when people referred to "Mad Max," they were thinking of this chase sequence (and, of course, Thunderdome).

There's an unhinged weirdness that just explodes during this sequence, and the sheer insanity of Miller's world totally shines. If you're at all a fan of chases and things getting smashed up real good, this one's for you.

"The Road Warrior" trumps the original "Mad Max" in almost every way, and then has a great twist ending to tie things up. In the franchise, it stands tall and proud.

See Also
Mad Max
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
Mad Max: Fury Road

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