The name George Miller has become synonymous with Mad Max, much the same way the name George A. Romero has become synonymous with zombie films. The guy’s a freaking legend, and when world came around that he was a directing a new Mad Max film in 30 years, people got excited. What better time to go back and review the original trilogy.
Who said the western was dead? Sure, The Road Warrior (better known as Mad Max 2 everywhere outside of the U.S.) takes place in the future and builds it climax from a car chase, but these are just superficial details. While the players of the film don s&m outfits instead of ten gallon hats, the archetypes are so similar that that they just as easily be swapped.
Fans of Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name Trilogy will be comfortable with the bare bones plot. The film opens with a prologue telling is there has been a shortage of energy and that civilization has broken down. This answers questions I had with the first film regarding the exact nature of the dystopian environment. From there we move on to Max, who you’ll recall is on the lam from the the previous film. Right out of the gate he runs into a group of gangsters, who try to run him off the road. Max throws them off his trail, but not before we see a man with a red mohawk stare him down.
From there we’ve got the two factions set up. It’s a familiar trope from westerns, where the good guy has a brush up with the bad guys, building tension that will only be released with a bloody climax. Of course, a western wouldn’t be complete without the innocent bystanders.
The good guys are a bandit of civilians who have a built a compound for drilling oil.They appear almost angelic in their white garments, desperately protecting their oil from the gangsters. Max is at first captured by the good guys, but insists, as he kindly puts it, that he is just here for the fuel.
All of this is window dressing. The real meat of the film is the car chases and violence. We don’t really care about the good guys’s survival, and neither does Max. He only agrees to help them in exchange for oil his car. What we do care about is how Max will make it out alive as cars crash into a tanker he’s driving.
It’s a testament to the sure directing that makes the film so enjoyable. It’s lean, with a running time of a mere 97 minutes. There isn’t any dialogue wasted, nor superfluous side plots.
And then there’s the whole western archetype that the film plays into. Max is a man of few words, reminiscent of the many characters Clint Eastwood played. When he does speak it’s simple and direct. He says what he wants and then he does it.
And like all great westerns, the film’s built off a grand mythology. Mad Max 2 takes place on the plains of a new frontier, but instead of the west it’s the aftermath after the apocalypse. And in a land where fuel, modern civilization’s life blood, is scarce, it raises the question of how order and civility can turn to chaos and nihilism.
And above all else, the film just kicks ass. Whether it be chained gay lovers, a wild kid with a boomerang, fingers getting sliced off, and above all, those car crashes. A staple of the trilogy is the shocking violence, tame by today’s standards, and with that comes those who’ll be offended. But whatever you feel, you can’t deny that film lands a visceral punch. And when you think of it, that’s just what a western ought to do. Awe you with its sparse landscapes, and hit you with the bloody shoot out. Or in this case, the bloody car chase.