Awesome ’80s In April: Mad Max 2 (1981)

mad max 2 poster

While watching Mad Max Fury Road (2015) in the theater, just about the time when the guy strapped to a truck loaded up with speakers started playing his guitar that spits fire, I turned to my wife and said, “you have to look past the utter ridiculousness and enjoy the ride.”

That remains a helpful hint when your watching The Road Warrior, also known as Mad Max 2. In these two films (and presumably the other two in the series, though I’ve never seen Mad Max (1979) and barely remember Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)) writer/director George Miller has created a fascinating post-apocalyptic world in which souped up cars are the currency and gasoline is worth more than gold.

After the exploits of Mad Max, Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) has become a mythic figure (and there is a reading of Fury Road in which the Max in that movie (played by Tom Hardy) is not the same Max in the other films but has just carried on the name, or is a part of a larger mythology). An opening narration both sums up what happened in Mad Max, and gives us insight into the legend that has become Mad Max.

Our film begins proper with Max once again on the road. He is a loner. He is haunted by the death of his family in the first film. He cruises the streets in a super charged black car. He fights off a group of marauders and outsmarts a strange gyrocopter pilot (Bruce Spence). To keep from getting killed or left behind the pilot tells Max of a place that has fuel. Lots of it. It is an old oil refinery and a group of people have made it work again.

Max tricks his way inside but then finds himself captured. Before anything can be done with him the group of marauders that attacked Max in the beginning is laying siege to the refinery. They are way outnumbered and there is no way they can keep the enemy out forever. Max declares he can scavenge a large truck that can drive a tanker full of gasoline out of the compound and into safety.

What follows is a nearly twenty minute action sequence that feels like a dry run for most of Fury Road. Director George Miller is completely at home with the action. It isn’t quite as fluid here as it is in Fury Road but it is just as thrilling. The stunts are all practical as well, there was no CGI back then. One wonders just how dangerous it was all to perform. One marvels at the technical skill involved. It is one of the great action sequences in all of cinema.

Getting to that sequence isn’t quite as thrilling, but its still pretty darn great. The world Miller has created is an interesting one. I’m a big fan of post-apocalyptic cinema and they’ve done a great job of creating this world. Filmed in the deserts of Australia it looks like a world gone to hell. Mel Gibson is great as Max, I know he’s fallen out of favor of late (and with good reason) but there was a reason he was one of the biggest stars in the 1980s and into the 1990s and you can certainly see that here.

Mad Max 2 has certainly whetted my appetite to be back in this world. I’ll probably give the other films a spin this month even though I’m fully aware their reputations aren’t nearly as good.

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