Directed by George Miller. Written by James McCausland, George Miller and Byron Kennedy. Starring Mel Gibson (Max), Joanne Samuel (Jessie), Hugh Keays-Byrne (Toecutter).
Bottom line: Good chase scenes and fun characters make this perfect for a Saturday afternoon.
I’ve seen Mad Max twice. The first time was a few years ago. I saw it because it was one of those famous movies that I've never taken the time to watch. I must have been doing two things at once because I didn't quite get it. This time, I gave it my full attention and I think I understand it. At least, I understand it a little more. It still feels like a rather strange movie but I have a better idea of what happened.
The movie opens to a post-Apocalyptic landscape, "a few years from now..." as the movie says. An understaffed police force is at war with criminals for control of the roads connecting the last pockets of civilization. A police cruiser parks alongside one such road. Suddenly, a female dispatcher's voice calls out an alert on the radio. A cop killer and his girlfriend have escaped custody, stolen a supercharged police cruiser and are on the run. The unit in pursuit needs assistance. The criminal’s voice blares out on the radio, "I am the nightrider!" The two officers race off to join the pursuit. The nightrider continues to taunt and evade both cars. Goose, a motorcycle officer, briefly joins the pursuit before crashing. Throughout the chase, the camera cuts to an officer who sits alone in a cruiser. The mysterious man, steps out of his car, puts on dark sunglasses and dons a leather jacket and leather gloves with quiet, deliberate motions. This is Max (Gibson), the force's top officer. Once the criminal shakes off his pursuers, Max sets off to bring the man to justice. The two cars speed towards each other in a game of chicken. The cars nearly avoid a head on collision. The almost fatal encounter silences the once proud nightrider. Instead of shouting at the officer, he begins to cry. The two cars race over a hill at such speed the nightrider can’t react fast enough to avoid an overturned fuel tanker blocking in the road. The nightrider's car bursts into a ball of fire and the sequence ends.
The introduction of Mad Max is simple and to the point. It’s a good indication of what the rest of the movie will be like. The focus of the movie is on cars and chase scenes. The story is present to make excuses for more chase scenes. That is, it isn't a sparse story with chase scenes but chase scenes with story spread throughout. It isn't quite to the level of focus as the original Gone in 60 Seconds (which features a 40 minute chase scene) but it is still enjoyable. On some level, for a short hour and a half movie, I might say that the film tries to accomplish too much. After all, it takes some time to establish Max's wife and infant son, and his friend named Goose, and the nightrider’s gang, and the police force, and so on but the pace of the movie is consistent enough that this doesn't become much of an issue.
The vehicles and characters are equally stylized. For example, you have the one nameless couple driving in a 1959 Chevolet Bel Air with fur interior and an elaborate flame paint job. Similarly, you have the police captain, Fifi; a tall man with a billowy voice and a thick moustache wears leather pants and no shirt while he waters his little plants. The style reminds me of the colorful gangs in The Warriors where you have the baseball gang and the roller skating gang. There isn't really a reason for cars and characters. I mean, this is the post-apocalyptic future, right? How much time, money, and energy did they spend on making these cars? Shouldn't these people be worried about food? Mad Max is just one of those movies where you have to go with the flow.
I'd recommend this movie for a Friday evening or Saturday afternoon. It is simple and to the point. I hesitate to get excited for the upcoming remake, Mad Max: Fury Road, starring Tom Hardy, I because I wouldn't be surprised if they try to make it gritty and edgy like Dread. Then again, it's going to be directed by George Miller.
As I drafted this post, I thought about the other two movies in the franchise, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior and Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome. I don’t remember really ever watching either but I have bits and pieces in memory. I watched them both shortly thereafter just to get my story straight. In short, I liked Mad Max. It was simple and action-y and that’s that. With Mad Max 2, time has passed and civilization as we know has crumbled. Small gangs (good and bad) living together to survive. Cars and motorcycles are still the main mode of transport so fuel a source of hostilities. Mad Max 2 is the one with the “feral kid” armed with a metal boomerang (that’s how I kept it straight). Max has become the brooding loner who just wants fuel to drive away from his sorrows. He comes across a lowly, honest tribe (appropriately dressed in white) who needs his help. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the sequel because it just felt like all sorts of other movies but with a different art style. If you’ve read my other reviews, you know I dislike kids in movies. Fortunately, Mad Max 2’s feral kid isn’t obnoxious. It’s refreshing. I was thinking, yeah, this kid is going to get into some trouble and Max is going to have to save him. As it turns out, the kid saves Max more often than not. Because he is feral, he doesn’t speak but growls. He’s kinda like a puppy but, because he’s a kid, we don’t have to worry about him dying. This isn’t the type of movie that would kill a kid.
Now, Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome is the one with Tina Turner. We are farther in the future. Fuel has all but disappeared. Max, for example, enters the movies in a truck pulled by six camels. He comes to a town called BarterTown. Yada yada yada, he saves the day again. I really disliked the last installment of Mad Max. It is the a perfect example of why I dislike children in film. It’s as if they said “We can’t just do a single feral child again: we have to up the ante.” They throw in a whole tribe of children. They aren’t funny or cute or inspiring. They cause so much more problems than they help: ‘We’re trying to be quiet and sneaky? WHY DO WE HAVE TO DO THAT, MAX?!’ They actually made me angry. I don’t know how Max could’ve kept his cool. Sheesh, just thinking about them makes me annoyed.
If you have some extra time and want something light, check out Mad Max. If you really liked it, then it wouldn’t be the worst decision to check out Mad Max 2 but that’s only if you really liked it. If you want a post-apocalyptic, dystopian future, watch something more fun like Escape from New York not Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome. Nobody should see Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome.