The Road Warrior (aka Mad Max 2)
Screenplay : Brian Hannant, Terry Hayes, and George Miller
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1981
Stars : Mel Gibson (Max), Bruce Spence (The Gyro Captain), Michael Preston (Pappagallo), Max Phipps (The Toadie), Vernon Wells (Wez), Kjell Nilsson (The Humungus), Emil Minty (The Feral Kid)
"The Road Warrior" is the movie the original "Mad Max" always wanted to be. Writer/director George Miller resurrects Max (Mel Gibson) with a larger budget, a bigger crew, and more vehicles to destroy. "The Road Warrior" adds Hollywood polish to its B-movie roots, and the result is pure dynamite.
Several years have passed since Max lost his wife and child to a biker gang, and since then, civilization has completed deteriorated. An clever black and white prologue tells us that World War III has ravaged the landscape, and only the strongest survive amidst the remnants of society. There are no cities left, but there are cars, and gasoline has become the highest commodity, with people willing to kill for a tank of "juice."
Enter Max. He is only the shell of himself, no longer the loving husband and father he was in the original film. He looks ragged and disheveled, his eyes blank, his old leather police uniform dusty and cracked, his face covered with a three-day stubble, and his hair prematurely graying around the edges, giving him a hardened, desperate look. He is a loner, something like Clint Eastwood's unnamed character in Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Westerns. Max drifts about the dusty highways of the Australian outback with only his blue heeler at his side, filling his tank whenever he can, and fighting for mere existence in a immanently hostile world. He does what he can to survive, and he makes no bones about it.
Max is quick-witted and strong, evidenced in his ability to turn the tables on a would-be attacker named the Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence), who ends up Max's captive. In a bargain for his life, the Gyro Captain tells Max about an oil refinery in the middle of the desert where he can obtain as much gas as he wants. This sounds too good to be true and, of course, it is. In this post-apocalyptic netherworld, nothing comes easy.
When Max and the Gyro Captain first see the refinery from a nearby ridge, the situation is quickly evident: the owners of the refinery, a small scrappy band of men, women and children led by Papagallo (Michael Preston)are barricaded inside. Outside, an ugly, scheming gang of misfits and freaks has surrounded the refinery and is demanding that the inhabitants turn it over to them.
The gang is a motley group of futuristic, leather clad outlaws riding in a gaudy assortment of souped-up and modified vehicles, ranging from motorcycles to dune buggies to pickup trucks. Everything is over-the-top, but in this futuristic world, it all fits together like a crazy jigsaw puzzle. It's ugly to look at, but in its own deranged way, it all makes sense, right down to the muscle-bound leader known as the Humungus (Kjell Nilsson) who predates Jason Vorhees with the hockey-mask look.
Max manages to work his way into the refinery, and although the inhabitants distrusts him at first, they soon realize what an asset he is. Max just wants the juice so he can continue his lonely existence, and he agrees to deliver a rig which the group can use to haul its tanker full of gasoline out the coast, where they plan to rebuild civilization. With forced help from the Gyro Captain and his minimalistic helicopter, Max retrieves a rig he had spotted earlier, and delivers it like he promised.
From there, the movie builds into an extended chase scene that has carved its own niche in movie lore. Although he at first refuses, events conspire to force Max into helping the refinery group break out. Max leads the charge from behind the wheel of the gasoline tanker, setting off the most dynamic, best-sustained car chase in the history of film.
Director George Miller stages a twenty minute set piece, involving no less that 25 different vehicles barreling down a deserted highway at breakneck speeds. Miller sustains the chase with crisp editing, sharp photography by Dean Semlar (who was tapped to copy his own style in "Waterworld"), and a pounding music score by Brian May. Nothing is spared in this heart-pounding segment, and the sheer inventiveness of it demands repeat viewings.
"The Road Warrior" is simply great entertainment. It is something of a futuristic Western, with the lines of good and evil clearly drawn, and Max straddling a gray area in the middle. It doesn't have anything grand to say, except that maybe human potential can and will survive despite the worst possible world events. As Papagallo tells Max, "We're still human beings. At least we still have our dignity."
Copyright ©1997 James Kendrick