When George Miller’s Mad Max hit the big screen 1979, it wasn’t just another film in Australia’s New Wave movement or another Ozploitation film following on the heels of such films as Picnic at Hanging Rock, Walkabout, The Cars that Ate Paris and the Long Weekend. Mad Max would eventually influence and create a whole sub-genre of post-apocalyptic films that would try and fail to emulate Miller’s vision.
Mad Max‘s world hasn’t quite gone over the edge yet. Civilization is still prominent although the gangs have started to eat away at society. The movie starts off with a bang as a criminal called the Nightrider who has killed a cop, stolen his car and embarked on a road rampage. A kinetic car chase leads to lots of destruction but fortunately, the police have the best driver. Max (Mel Gibson) stops the Nightrider, permanently. But Nightrider’s boss, the Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) is outraged.
When he’s not on the road, Max is a family man with a wife and kid. He wants to quit but his bosses entice him to stay with a car, a souped-up V8 interceptor—the most powerful four-wheeled vehicle left. Max declines, but after a fatal run-in with Toecutter and his gang, Max is sent over the edge. He takes the car and unleashes furious vengeance.
While the terrifying dystopian wasteland doesn’t happen until the second film, the first film is still a good movie, it’s a little slower but as Toecutter’s gang strikes back, the terror that they create in almost normal surroundings gives you the feeling that this future isn’t really that far off, even if the movie was made over 30 years ago.
With Mad Max 2 aka The Road Warrior Miller really changes the post-apocalyptic game. This time out Max has been wandering the wastelands. After a narration (which was included only for the North American release) explaining the world and what happened in the first film, there is very little dialogue as Max is chased by scavengers but stops at a car wreck to gather leaking gasoline. Later Max stumbles across a trap laid by the Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence). Taking the Captain prisoner, the Captain promises to show Max where a lot of gas is. They go to a compound that’s under siege by a vicious gang lead by a hockey masked man know as “The Humungus! The Lord Humungus! The Warrior of the Wasteland! The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla!”
The Humungus wants the compound and the gas. The people in the compound want to leave with the gas and find safety. Max proposes a deal with the people trapped in the compound. He’ll find them a truck to haul the gas and they’ll give him all the gas that he can carry. This all leads to one of the most exciting, kinetic, visceral car chases ever filmed. This is a masterpiece and one of the more influential films on pop culture.
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is flawed but still an entertaining entry. George Miller only partially directed the movie after his friend and producer Byron Kennedy was killed while scouting locations for the film. Miller only directed the action sequences while first time director George Ogilvie (who hasn’t made much since) directed the majority of the film. The end result is an uneven film that has several memorable action moments.
Max is wandering the wasteland when he is robbed by Jedediah the Pilot (Bruce Spence again playing a similar character). His search for his stuff leads him to Barter Town, a town in the middle of the desert that Aunty Entity (Tina Turner) kind of runs. I say kind of because the real brains and brawn behind the town is Master Blaster. Master is the brains and Blaster is the brawn. Aunty Entity wants Blaster killed and makes a deal with Max. His stuff gets returned if he murders Blaster. There is a sort of law in Barter Town and all disputes are settled in Thunderdome, a caged arena that anything goes. Max sets up a fight with Blaster in there but seeing that the giant brute is mentally a child refuses to kill him.
The result is Aunty Entity banishes Max to the wastelands where he’s saved a group of wild children that were abandoned. The kids think Max is there to save them. After Max disillusions them, several of them leave their little paradise to “return home” not realizing that the world they are looking for is gone. Max goes after them and runs into Aunty Entity again.
The Thunderdome fight and the final chase is quite entertaining but the parts of the film just don’t quite work. Miller had set off to do a story about a post-apocalyptic Lord of Flies and then later worked Max into the mix. After his friend died he lost interest in the film and it shows. Still it’s better than the tons of crappy rip-offs that had followed The Road Warrior and Miller more than makes up for this film’s faults with his latest Mad Max effort.