#4 Mad Max 2 (dir: George Miller, 1981)
George Miller’s 1981 sequel to his ground-breaking 1979 original is utterly perfect with nothing out of place or featuring anything extraneous. Mad Max 2 (aka The Road Warrior) is ninety minutes of pure movie energy. It never bloody stops. It also features one of the most bleak and ironic endings ever shot, which really does undercut the suicidal heroics of the leading character. He took on the S&M biker mob and won, but he’s got no reward … only a handful of sand streaming out of a tanker. He’s been had.
Mad Max is one of my absolute favourite film heroes. It is also very much linked to my earliest memories of watching films. My parents were clearly awesome with allowing me to watch violent action movies. But hey, I didn’t grow to be a psychopath – I grew up and became a film critic. Take that BBFC and moral guardian fascists!
Watching this film repeatedly in my youth, I quite possibly wanted to be Max Rockatansky as an adult. Imagine the career advice talk? (For the sake of this article, let’s)
Careers officer: “What do you want to do when you live school and head out into the world?”
Me: “I want to be Max Rockatansky and drive the feral wastelands of a post-apocalyptic Australia in a kick-ass Ford Falcon with a V8 engine. Also, I want a cattle dog as a pet … and it’s got to have a red handerchief around its throat. I’m both known and unknowable, a mythic hero for a new generation. A man from somewhere going nowhere … a wanderer … a survivor.”
Careers officer: “You watch way too many films.”
Say what you want about Mad Mel these days but holy shit does he have charisma and presence. I must have watched Mad Max 2 at least hundred times. I’m not kidding. My favourite line, and Max isn’t the most verbose of screen icons, is: “Two days ago, I saw a vehicle that would haul that tanker. You want to get out of here? You talk to me.”
Max, as we know from events in the first movie, is a “burnt out shell of a man…” His wife and kid got mowed down by evil biker boys and he then left the police force to kill them one by one. Max’s brand of justice didn’t need a badge, and society was falling apart any way so all perfectly timed.
Miller’s directorial style isn’t pretty but it fucking rocks. The fast-cut editing style and growling sound design feel like pure rock n’ roll. Although set in a world where everyday social manners and structures have disappeared, one of the inspirations for the films was a series of oil strikes in 1973, in Australia, which saw panic buying and battles at service stations all for a can of guzzaline. Miller and co-writer James McCausland (Miller re-wrote extensively) placed their film in the near-future as they believed it would be much more interesting as a film setting. Without a doubt Miller’s choice proved highly influential on 1980s post-apocalyptic works churned out in its successful wake.
Of course the major find was a twenty-one year old named Mel Gibson, an American-born but Australian-raised actor straight out of drama school. In the first film, we see Max’s conflict as a married man and law enforcer who then grows into a character with nothing much left to live for in the two sequels and becomes an anti-hero.
I am, however, a bit ambivalent about Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, mostly the second half with the kids who Max ends up saving. After the death of Byron Kennedy, it is said Miller’s heart wasn’t in it, and he only returned to direct the action sequences leaving George Ogilive to do the rest. Plus it all got a bit 1980s with Tina Turner cast in a supporting role.
I am, of course, over the moon Miller is returning to the world of Mad Max with his fourth picture in the series, Mad Max: Fury Road (I’ll probably cry with tears of joy when it comes out, especially if it rocks). Part of me is sad Mel isn’t back but at 56, he’s too old and wants to leave his iconic character with dignity Gibson doesn’t afford himself in real life.
British actor Tom Hardy is an exciting replacement because he’s proved in such films as Warrior that he can be hard as fucking concrete with reinforced steel girders and deliver emotion. Just like Mel could in the role. Because, remember, Max Rockatansky is a fully-formed and engaging character – we understand his pain. I’m also excited for Mad Max: Fury Road because Charlize Theron is appearing … awesome.
The Top Twenty Films Challenge is an inter-blog daily feature between myself and Laurent di Alberti at FilmLand Empire blog. Each of us will reveal our Top 20 favourite films. For other Cinemart entries click the link: Top Twenty Films Challenge.