Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Ozploitation Month: Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

So here is the first review, as part of my month long look at "Ozploitation" movies and what better place to start than with one of my all time favourite movies "Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. If you want to have your thoughts, on the subject of Ozplotiation be it reviews, essays or anything that ties in with this months theme, just click here for details of how you too can be part of Ozploitation month.

Title: Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
Director: George Miller
Released: 1982
Staring: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Michael Preston, Max Phipps, Vernon Wells, Kjell Nilsson, Emil Minty
Rating: 5/ 5

Plot: Continuing after the event of the first film, Max (Gibson) now travels through the post apocalypse Australia where Gasoline has become most valuable commodity. It’s here that he becomes involved in a struggle between a group of psychotic bandits lead by the Humangus (Nilsson) and a town that has built its defences around a small refinery.

Review: When it comes to naming the greatest sequels of all time, it’s usually a pretty short list, especially when you limit it to movies which manage to surpass the original film from which they have been spawned, which will no doubt leave you with a list that looks a lot like this.

* Godfather part 2
* Gremlins: The New Batch
* Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
* Terminator 2: Judgement Day
* Aliens
* Baby cart at the River Styx

But for myself when it comes to one movie that not only surpasses its original film, but blows it out of the water, I always think of this film, which was released three years after the original movie and costing ten times the budget of the original movie, it’s hardly surprising that this was at the time one of the most expensive Australian movies made at the time of it’s release, but for myself this truly is a film that surpasses it's original, which honestly I never really cared for, seeing how it had a strong memorable opening and a great finale, but somewhere in-between it became just a run of the mill chase thriller, as Max and his family found themselves constantly on the run from “The Toecutter” and his marauding group of bikers and true it’s storyline might be important, due to it showing how Max became the shell of the man he is, when we catch up with him in this film, where it seems since the last time we saw Max, the world has gone to hell in a hand basket, thanks to the war over oil, ravaging the planet which only proves all the more ironic when we look at the conflict currently happening in Iraq. Still thanks to the dramatic opening narrative, we are quickly brought up to speed, before being thrown into the first of the films many chase sequences, which after all were the selling point of the first film and realising this Miller, has with this sequel created some of the most memorable chase sequences put onto film, maximising on the apocalyptic setting, to not only create strange hybrid vehicles, but also using the setting to bring a new primal and more brutal edge to these sequences, with the standout of course being the final tanker chase, which not only clocks in at an impressive 15 minutes, but in many ways modernises the familiar set piece of westerns by giving us his version of a stage coach ambush setting, as we see the Humangus’s dogs of war leaping from vehicles, to try and climb onboard the tanker.

It’s true that “Mad Max 2” might also be almost a complete reimagining of the world created in “Mad Max” (1979), which despite having a future time frame still looked very current for the time of it’s release, but it’s a reimaging or even a reboot which saved the series, which at the end of the first film had really no where to go, but by making the subtle tweaks to the setting, such as the world now being post apocalyptic, it helps make the film more open to creativity, which is none more present than with Humangus and his dogs of war, who are really a rag tag band of bikers and savages still trying to cling onto familiar symbols of the old world, such as several members of the gang, being seen wearing police uniforms, similar to the ones we saw Max and his fellow officers wearing in the first film, while the bikers tend to favour the more traditional leather and Mohawk combo, with the Humangus’s muscle “Wez” (played here by Vernon Wells in what would prove to be his most memorable role) even sporting a pair of ass-less chaps, which along with the affection he has for the blonde guy who rides with Wez on his bike, only further fuels, the idea that several of these bandits are openly gay and idea not usually associated with tough and sadistic villains like these, who are happy to torture and rape their victims, whenever provided the opportunity and judging by the comments made by the Humangus while trying to calm down a psychotic Wez, saying the following words softly, as he restrains him

“I understand your pain. We've all lost someone we love.”

We are also shown that these bandits, have also been driven insane by the violence, which has erupted around them and that Max could easily have become one of these men, as he to seems to care for nothing in this world which has taken everything he cares about, having become a shell of his former self, with his emotions as barren as the desert landscape which surrounds him, with the only real sign of any emotion in the whole film, being at the start, when he finds a small music box, which when wound up plays the tune of “Happy Birthday” raising a slight smile on his face. Still it would seem that Max, still holds onto a lot of his old values, as he keeps his deals with both the Gyro captain (Spence) and PappaGallo (Preston) again proving, that even though he is emotional dead, thanks to the experiences he has been through, he is still not ready to turn into a savage like the Humangus and his gang have long since become. The Villagers on the other hand seem strangely innocent compared to Max and the bandits, dressing almost uniform like in their Nomadic white cloth wraps, yet are prepared to defend their makeshift village, no doubt having learned from previous experience that passive behaviour, holds little weight in this world, an idea only re-enforced by the opening montage, as the narrator explains states that

"Only those mobile enough to scavenge, brutal enough to pillage would survive."
Though like the bandits they too, have chosen to follow the leadership of a charismatic leader, with their leader coming in the form of PappaGallo, whose command they follow without question, despite having launched numerous failed attempts to escape from the bandits. It is also curious that with a society that these villagers have created for themselves that they have a feral child, the imaginatively named Feral Kid (Minty) amongst their number, who speaks only in grunts and howls and despite his young age has already become desensitised to the escalating violence around him, while showing no remorse when his steel boomerang kill’s Wez’s partner, giving the viewer the impression that this child is the new evolution of humanity, created in this societies soup of violence and rage.

Now were most movies would be lucky to manage one interesting villan, this film is unusual in the fact that it has two, with both the Humangus and Wez fighting for the title of supreme evil of the wasteland, even though it made clear that the Humangus is the one with the power, easily commanding his followers with a few simple words and inspiring them with his torture party demonstrations of power, aswell as Neo Nazi like rants at the towns folk, with his style of leadership having possibly been inspired by his own father, as we see in the Humangus’s gun case a photo of a man, who could be his father wearing a Nazi uniform. However he is slightly let down by his costume choice, which thanks to S & M style leather and a hockey mask covering his disfigured face, means he does end up looking like Jason’s gay Australian cousin. Wez on the other hand is less focused with his intentions and merely a man of action, admittedly these actions are mainly of a psychotic and violent nature, who draws pleasure from pain, demonstrated near the beginning when we see him pulling an arrow from his own flesh, with an almost transfixed look of concentration on his face. Still for myself the most memorable character of the film, will always be the Gyro Captain, with Bruce Spence playing the role, like it had been written for him, which makes his appearance in “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome” (1985) all the less suprising. The Gyro Captain makes for an interesting choice of sidekick for Max, even though Max rejects his offers of partnership, whenever it is brought up he continues to follow Max around, knowing that they both need each other, if they are to survive in this new world, even if Max isn’t forthcoming in admitting to it, only expressing his respect for the Gyro Captain at the very end of the film.

Brain May once again provides a great orchestra score to the film, adding real tension and drama, to what is unfolding on the screen, in much the same way that he would later do for many Ozploitation classics including “Turkey Shoot” (1982) and “Patrick” (1978), the score coming into real effect during the chase sequences, all of which were shot without the use of CGI, making every smash and crash all the more exciting, as Miller attempts to top each chase sequence with the final chase especially easily worth noting as one of the most spectacular and exciting ever captured on film.

Since it’s original release Mad Max 2 has been endless paid homage to, with many films sharing it’s apocalyptic setting drawing heavy influence from the ideas which it along with the other films in the trilogy laid the foundations for. The film is also packed with textbook examples for how chase sequences should be done and certainly something which Australian films have in time become renown for, but Mad Max 2 just ups the ante with these sequences almost as if Miller was playing a game of one upman ship with himself, to see just how insane a chase sequence it would be possible to create and these sequences stand as a testament, giving almost textbook example as to how chase sequences should be shot.
Mad Max 2 is also a film that since I first saw it, back in my early teens, it has frequently been a film, which I have returned to and even after countless viewings still manages to create the same emotions in me, that it did the first time I saw it in much the same way as “Zulu” (1964) and like that film, it is one of the films which I hope gets passed onto the next generation of film junkies, who will no doubt never get to experience a film like this, especially in these times were CGI has pretty much replaced the role of old school effect, atleast this film much like John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982) will remain testament as to the power of the old school style of film making.


  1. I love this movie - one of those movies you wish you could watch for the first time over and over again.

    Great review! Can I add Evil Dead II to your list of sequels-better-than-the-original?

  2. I totally agree, especially when it comes to the final chase sequence, I still remember how exciting that was, the first time I watched it as a kid.
    Still on repeated viewings you realise just how cool Max is, such as the scene at the beginning, when he points the shotgun at Wez, even though it's not loaded, which on first viewing, you don't find out till later, but knowing this on a second viewing and seeing how unfazed Max is, just makes him all the more cooler.

    Evil Dead 2 is a weird movie, as I would say that it's on a par with the original, which it is basically a remake of. For some strange reason, I always liked "Army of Darkness" best, possibly because of it being so insane, even if it's alot lighter than the first two films.


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