Retro Review Triple Play: Mad Max
We’re T minus three days (and counting!) till the sledge hammer that is Mad Max: Fury Road gets dropped on our unready heads. Based on the trailer, this film is going to be full on crazy pants (hell, it inspired a whole month here dedicated to insanity) and trust us, you do not want to walk into that theater cold. You’re going to see cars cartwheeling on fire before exploding six times in a row, and if you don’t do a warm up, your head is going to be exploding right alongside them. Gear up with Deluxe Video as we give you the crash course in Max Rockatansky’s storied career of madness!
Mad Max (1979)
The film that started it all, Mad Max was shot for a meager $400k and starred a largely unknown lead actor in Mel Gibson. It helped to put both director George Miller and star Mel Gibson on the map (the latter being a mixed blessing…) and gave the Australian film industry a nitrous-charged shot in the ass.
The world is going to crap thanks to global war and the depletion of fossil fuels. As humanity circles the drain, vicious gangs have taken control of the roads, causing murder and mayhem in their quest for the next liter of petrol (gasoline to those of us who actually drive a car and own firearms.) The last bastion of law and order is the MFP, road cops who blast around in souped-up hot-rods and deal a sterner form of justice. Young patrolman Max Rockatansky is the best of this breed, but loses his nerve as he sees his partner burned alive, and receives threats against his family. When the biker gang who took out his partner actually attack his family, he goes over the edge and becomes Mad Max, a one man force for vengeance who leaves smouldering hunks of metal in his wake.
The first half of the film paints a wonderful picture of a dystopian society, and invests us into the world of the Rockatansky family as they struggle to get by and make sense of senseless world. The second half of the film soaks that painting in diesel and sets it ablaze with the spark of a double-barreled shotgun blast. Despite a young cast and little money, Mad Max had both a smart story and a lead foot. We’ve suggested it before: you should see this film.
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
Mad Max truly came into his own in his second outing: The Road Warrior. Miller never abandons his post-apocalyptic visions (and indeed manages to paint the canvas in even darker tones of red and brown this time out) but his second film in the series is a magnum opus of vehicular destruction. The crunch of metal on metal is constant and brutal, and the characters who inhabit this wasteland are as ruthless as they come, even our anti-hero and sanity-challenged protagonist, Max.
Society has officially ended. The wasteland is ruled by the powerful, and the ultimate show of power is possession of gasoline. Max has eked out a living as a loner, using his wits, his gun, and his super-powered Pursuit Special police car. A chance encounter with a mentally deranged gyro-copter pilot leads him to an outpost of survivors who have managed to restart a derelict oil-derrick. These relatively peaceable folks just want to take enough gas to get north, to a rumored oasis of sanity and stability. At present, though, they are surrounded by the forces of Lord Humungus, a hockey-masked warlord with an army of vehicles and a strong desire to control all of the gasoline in the wasteland. Max sneaks into the compound and makes a devil’s bargain: he will bring them a tanker-trunk to haul the gas north as long as he is allowed to take his fill and depart alone. Things go a whole lot worse than you would expect.
The Road Warrior has it all: memorable characters with real motivations, a simple but perilous story, a terrific setting, and a metric-fuckton of car-on-car action. There’s even car-on-truck and dune buggy-on-helicopter action, for you sick vehicle fetishists. George Miller fires on all cylinders, Mel Gibson is at his devil-may-care best, and the film never relents in the gonzo action, from the opening scene to the finale, one of the greatest car chase sequences of all time!
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
I wouldn’t say that the wheels fell off for the third installment of the franchise, but the “check engine” light was certainly lit. Many of the staples of the series were muted or ignored, the action rarely felt unrestrained and eye-popping, and Max was played too close to a typical Hollywood good-guy. I came to see Mad Max, not Borderline-Personality Max!
Max has apparently exhausted his supply of fuel and now roams the dessert with a team of horses instead of a set of wheels. He is attacked and has his horses stolen, but instead of dying in the wilderness, he trails the thief to Bartertown, a relatively stable enclave of lunatics and cut-throats. The business aspect of Bartertown is run by Aunty Entity (Tina Turner,) who rules through a violent set of laws…all of which lead to transgressors fighting in the gladiatorial games of Thunderdome. Underneath the city dwells the real source of power, Master/Blaster, a mechanical genius dwarf partnered with a mentally disabled giant. This team keeps the lights on and gas flowing, and holds the real power. Max quickly determines that he’s going to need to screw both Entity and Master over if he’s going to get his guns, his gas, and his ride out of town.
I hate to call Beyond Thunderdome a disappointment: there are great characters, imaginative settings, and fun set pieces (the fight in Thunderdome is quite memorable…if short.) The problem is that George Miller had to pull back from the project early due to personal tragedy, and his lack of vision and stamp of authenticity is definitely missed. The heart and soul of the franchise, the car combat, is sorely lacking; what little we get feels largely recycled from the much better action sequences of The Road Warrior. The ending is a major disappointment as well, creating no advancement in Max’s story, and establishing new characters who get too little development. Knowing George Miller, he will likely give a funny wink-and-nod to these characters (you can already see images of Thunderdome in the trailer for Fury Road.) As a stand alone film, it’s entertaining enough, but as a part of the series, it just doesn’t live up to the first two films.