I tend to think of this, the first Mad Max sequel, as the first (and perhaps only) real Mad Max movie. A truly iconic film in many ways, it turned MM into the cinematic franchise it has ultimately become. Mad Max 2, or as it became known in the states, The Road Warrior, is the benchmark all films in the series would be compared to. The one that inspired a plethora of other post-apocalyptic films, and really and truly, the one that set the template of what all future Max’s would look like. I’m not too sure about how it affected Gibson’s career per se. The first Mad Max would have helped opened many doors that matter, sure, but it would be Lethal Weapon (1989) which would make him a household name.
The film opens with some much needed exposition that attempts to bridge the gap between the first film and this one. I have to say, it wasn’t satisfying enough. An unidentified narrator talks about time marked by chaos and unfulfilled dreams during a 4 by 6 black and white montage composed of shots from what seem to be the Vietnam or Korean war, with a few shots of the original Mad Max thrown in. The script here manages to be bloated and vague at the same time.
It’s a desolate picture that the as-yet unnamed narrator paints. Looting and violence has become the norm. Being on the road is a nightmare only those hardened enough could hope to survive. The narrator speaks of a time when the world was powered by black fuel – a world now truly well and gone for reasons long forgotten due to … war. A convenient enough reason for the script writer to move on to the next bit.
Through this montage, Miller attempts not only to bridge the original MM with this one, but also to give us some sort of plausible explanation as to the drastic aesthetic changes that came about in this film. Because this is definitely a different kind of movie. Not the weird b-movie the first effort was. This time round, George Miller gave us an actual cinematic movie, with colourful characters, suspense and pacing that actually works.
Max the Mad
Gibson’s Max Rockatansky has gone through one of the most dramatic examples of character developments ever from the last time we saw him. The Max from the first movie is nowhere to be found. The character is unrecognisable in both appearance and demeanour. Like most of the inhabitants of the desert wasteland Australia has become, Max has become a scavenger, looking only to steal fuel and survive until the next day.
In the first film, Max was fresh-faced, upstanding and sensitive. He also had a humorous side to him, which made his gradual change with each tragedy even more evident. This Max is stone cold and shows a number of depressive traits. He doesn’t seem to be capable of expressing any emotion at all. The only connection he seems to give any value to is that which he has with his loyal dog, who he refers to simply as ‘Dog.’
While it isn’t explicitly stated that Max has turned to the dark side, he has clearly discarded his once rigid moral compass; going as far as to agreeing to save a left-for-dead raid victim only when he promises Max all the fuel he can carry, given his return to his community alive.
Rockatansky obliges – only for the victim to breathe his last once he enters the community’s fortification. Unfortunately for Max, as far as the community is concerned, any agreement he may have had with the dead man died along with him. Unsure whether he should be trusted, Max is taken prisoner until the Marauders appear, giving him the chance to prove himself once again as the hero the world desperately needs.
The actual madness that ensues is fuckin’ epic.
They wear a punk-inspired hotchpotch of leather and studs, however rather than giving the impression of being quickly put together as was the case in the first film, it is clear that this time around, the garb has an actual purpose. Evidently, thought has been put into each and every actor’s costume. Each character has his own identifiable look and the clothes manage to tell a lot about the wearer’s identities.
Once again, the antagonists’ costumes must have been inspired by the underground gay culture of the times. While this may be nothing more than an impression of mine, a close watch (and perhaps subtitles help) will show that it was intended for the bad guys to be associated with perversity. The names they go by alone say a lot; led by their charismatic hockey-mask wearing Lord Humungus, the Marauders are disseminated into various sub-groups such as the Gayboy Berserkers and Smegma Crazies, amongst others.
While the story in itself isn’t groundbreaking by any stretch of the imagination, the spectacle is immense and the number of highly kinetic battle scenes on rag-tag vehicles are savage; definitely unlike anything cinema-going audiences had seen before. This is a story of survival in a world which is unforgiving and dangerous. It is also attempts to re-define honour; rather than proven by simply fulfilling contracts or being true to one’s word, it is proven by going beyond. By self sacrifice. Which is what Gibson’s Max can do…and what ultimately makes him a true hero to be reckoned with.
Technically, this film is superior to the original in most every way. The sets are huge – the Australian outback provides the perfect setting for the murderous storyline to develop.
Evidently, a much bigger budget was splashed out on costumes, sets, and vehicles. Editing is slick as is sound design and the soundtrack production. The score accompanying the opening credits hooks the viewer from the get-go. I don’t think I have heard strings arranged to sound like humming engines ever before, or since.
This is cinema as its’ most frantic or at least, as much as it could be back in 1981. It remains the definitive Mad Max movie, the most entertaining one and the one every post-apocalyptic, sand speckled action film would be measured against.