Pros: Some of the most badassed action in Hollwood history
Cons: The series is only downhill from here
With Mad Max: Fury Road slated for a summer release and a freshly minted Blu Ray of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome just in the stores now, I thought it was time to watch a series I've not seen for a very long time, the movie that made Mel Gibson a big star (and long before he turned into a raging alcoholic anti-Semite racist): The Road Warrior (AKA Mad Max 2)
Since the death of his wife and son in Mad Max, former cop Max Rockatansky (Gibson again) has been walking the earth with his dog in his Cool Car, a black V8 Interceptor. In the years since the first movie, society has completely collapsed - and those who control the fuel control the power. Desperately searching for gasoline, Max comes across a rag-tag group of survivors occupying an isolated oil refinery - a sweet score, save for one tiny little detail - they're surrounded by a small army of vicious bikers under the command of the Lord Humongous (Kjell Nilsso).
Being the badass that he is, Max manages to rescue a scout from the Humongous' clutches and slip into the compound to secure some gas for himself. But it quickly becomes apparent that only Max is badass enough to deal with The Humongous and his men and save the compound. The only way out is to assisting them in their plan for escape to the North, exorcising some of his own personal demons along the way. . . .
Directed by George Miller and released in 1981 (and renamed in America because nobody saw the original Mad Max), The Road Warrior is a significantly better flick than its predecessor. This was the movie that made everyone go "I want to make a movie just like that!" - Roger Corman and Enzo G. Casterelli all the way up to Terminator: Salvation, suddenly everyone was doing leather jackets and mohawked bikers and cyberpunk - and it was all Mad Max's fault.
So, what went right?
The acting was very strong this time around. Gibson is great as a badassed Man With No Name, playing Max as a down and dour man. They took a character where we know the full backstory (assuming you've seen the first movie) and still managed to make him mysterious and enigmatic. You know his story and motivation and you still keep wondering what's going on in this stranger's head. He's a cynical shell of a man, a burnt out, desolate man, a man haunted by the demons of his past - but still somehow completely likeable. Bruce Spence is great as the Gyrocaptain, and while Kjell Nilsso doesn't do much beyond stand around and growl over a loudspeaker, he's still a memorable screen bad guy.
It doesnt hurt matters that The Road Warrior looks great too - a couple of questionable costume choices aside, such as the assless chaps on Humongous' right hand man and the headband/leg warmer yoga outfit on The Captain's Girl (which very firmly dates the movie as The Eighties) - the art direction is great with very much its own unique style. Oh sure, it's been imitated to death in the last 30 years, but remember we hadn't seen anything like this up to that point. It might be low budget, but it doesn't look cheap.
Okay, the story is pretty thin - the dialogue alone, if you hand wrote it out, double spaced, would probably be 15 pages. But that's okay, because the action bits are so damn good; it carries the more quiet scenes. And George Miller is a strong enough director to deliver the intimate moments that allow us to connect emotionally with the characters under siege, giving the action scenes more weight.
Oh yeah, did I mention that there are action scenes? There are, and they are some fan-fucking-tastic stuff. No blue screen, no rear projection, and certainly no computer generated nonsense - this is real stuntmen hanging off real cars going very fast*. The danger is very much real - the mohawked guy that does the triple flip after plowing into a wreck? Yeah, he wound up in the hospital because of it. Nobody got killed, but they don't make movies like this anymore (unless you're Jackie Chan). It's frantic and kinetic and real, and the climax is easily one of the best car chases ever put down to film in the history of Hollywood.
* Well, mostly. There's a couple of shots that are obviously undercranked, so instead of giving the illusion of speed, it just looks like a keystone kops short and they stick out like a sore thumb.
And I'd be remiss in pointing out the score by Brian May (no, not Brian May, the guitarist from Queen) rocks. It's a horns heavy, driving score that sounds a little bit like a cross between Jerry Goldsmith and Basil Poledouris. It's a raw, bombastic soundtrack perfect for this raw, bombastic movie.
THE DVD -
We get a widescreen 2.40:1 print that looks gorgeous. For being a low budget flick on (presumably) cheap film stock, the print looked great and watching it on Blu Ray, the print was pristine and beautiful. The colors are rock solid, the details are sharp - I can say without hesitation that this is the best the Road Warrior has looked in years (oh, and we get the original Mad Max 2 title card at the start - so I presume this is the original Australian cut of the flick). As far as the sound goes, the Road Warrior gets a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio soundtrack. While I would have preferred to have the original stereo soundtrack included too, the 5.1 remaster doesn't sound too bad - plus it's actually Gibson's voice instead of a dub.
THE EXTRAS -
Sadly this disc needs more. For being such a landmark flick, the meager extras we get don't begin to cover things. We get a short introduction from film critic/historian Leonard Maltin who gives us a sliver of backstory and perspective on the flick. Then we get the audio commentary track recycled from the Road Warrior release a couple years ago, featuring George Miller and cinematographer Dean Semler. The two pile on the trivia, production details, tidbits and all kinds of behind the scenes dirt. We also get the original American release trailer, in pretty rough shape. Want to know how bad the disc could have looked? Just check out the trailer.
THE BOTTOM LINE -
The Road Warrior is clearly the best of the three (thusfar) Mad Max movies. It's heads and shoulders above Beyond Thunderdome and it's better than the original by leaps and bounds. Beyond that, the Road Warrior is an all-time classic action flick, with a climax that few movies have ever been able to touch. Bullett, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Blues Brothers - yeah, that's the type of car chase we're talking about. It's got a solid cast, a Mel Gibson before he had his drunken meltdown and the remastered disc looks brilliant. For someone looking for some old-fashioned hardcore action, you could do much worse than pick up this flick.
I give it five Ayatollah of Rock and Rollas out of five!