Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
Director: George Miller
Cast: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Michael Preston
Plot: In the post-apocalyptic Australian wasteland, a cynical drifter agrees to help a small, gasoline rich, community escape a band of bandits.
Genre: Action / Adventure / Thriller
Rating: M18 for violence, some nudity and sexual references.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
“I'm just here for the gasoline.”
Like most US moviegoers back in 1981, Mad Max 2 is my introduction to the 'Mad Max' trilogy, or for some, its mythology. Renamed as The Road Warrior in the States because very few knew of the existence of the first Mad Max (1979), this George Miller action vehicle became a box-office success, and perhaps launched Mel Gibson's career as a leading actor with enough screen charisma to charm audiences.
Gibson plays Max, a loner and drifter who survives the harsh post-apocalyptic Australian wasteland with his dog and car. Gasoline is scarce, and everyone wants a share of it, even if it means killing someone for it. Here, gasoline is more important than life, but is it more sacred?
The Road Warrior poses this question, among others, including not so secretly pointing fingers at Man's (over)reliance on natural resources. Aren't we also killing each other for oil? Miller wraps this in an action movie that contains some of the most dangerous vehicle stunts ever conceived.
While the film doesn't quite move at a blistering pace that would have alleviated some of its uninteresting moments of sub-plotting (at times it is an awkward buddy movie), it repays our attention with a climatic tanker chase that ranks as one of the finest chase sequences in action cinema. And with this bearing in mind that The Road Warrior was only Miller's second feature at the time.
Miller's raw filmmaking is a double-edged sword – it feels dated yet unique. The Australian landscape is beautifully captured with a sense of desolation. But even if the film does feel its age, it does not feel irrelevant to our time. An informative montage at the start provides important context to the movie; it is also a warning to mankind.
In this regard, I see similarities of the ‘Mad Max’ movies to the ‘Terminator’ series. Among other things, Max is as much a mythical hero as John Connor (of the future). The James Cameron films (The Terminator, 1984; Terminator 2: Judgment Day, 1991) also feature chases with heavy vehicles that are equally stupendous.
The Road Warrior however does something I have never seen before – within a single image past, present and future are acutely represented. I'm referring to the image of the antagonists, who are bandits led by someone called The Humungus. They dress as if they come from the medieval ages, yet the fashion is stylistically modern. Their modified vehicles look futuristic yet they are powered by traditional gasoline.
In a post-apocalypse, there is no sense of time. The Road Warrior finally asks of us: Are we capable of living in a time-less world… for eternity? Maybe yes, but preferably not.
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