Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
★★★ / ★★★★
Since the fall of modern society, gasoline has become a most valuable commodity. Competition is ferocious and just about anybody is willing to kill for it. When a group of men, women, and children has taken control of an oil refinery in the desert, a gang led by a muscular man named Humungus (Kjell Nilsson) offers a deal: Walk away and their lives would be spared. But these are dishonorable men, not above utilizing lies and deceit to get their hands on gasoline. Max (Mel Gibson), held prisoner in the refinery, offers to help in exchange for his freedom, beloved car, and as much gas as he can carry.
Written by Terry Hayes, George Miller, and Brian Hannant, “The Road Warrior” is a clear example of a movie being about its stunts than plot, story, and dialogue. Although the latter elements are present, these are solely utilized as a means to get to an action sequence. It is neither the most intellectually stimulating nor the most emotionally captivating film, but it is highly entertaining because director George Miller knows how to execute and put together a good-looking action picture with verve.
Notice how the first ten minutes is made up of only images and sounds. There is a lot of violence but the violence is never gratuitous, meant to disgust, or make us look away. On the contrary, it makes us want to know more about this post-apocalytic world. We take note of the kind of vehicles used, the types of clothes the characters wear, their hairstyles. We consider that perhaps these people at war probably have not bathed in weeks, maybe they have not had a proper meal in weeks. We look at the surroundings. They are orange-yellow, barren, heat emanating from rocks and small hills.
There is a saying that we can tell a lot from a movie by watching its first ten or fifteen minutes. In this case, that saying holds true. At one point, I wondered if the picture would still be effective given that the dialogue were completely taken out. I tried to imagine this alternative avenue by really focusing on the images and sounds when no one is speaking. The roars of the vehicles, shrieks of excitement, and screams of pain move to the forefront and then we truly appreciate the sound production and design.
I went a bit further in order to really test its strength. I focused on the images—especially the bodies and faces of the characters that just so happens to be in a frame. For instance, Gibson has a way of communicating a tormented past—one that Max does not wish or that he is too numb to deal with—with only using his eyes. Notice the calculated use of close-ups. When there are people in danger or Max feels guilty for not doing what he knows is right, there is a mix of determination and sadness in those eyes—important because that look is very reminiscent of another version of Max, one found in the predecessor. That familiar humanity is what connects the two films.
There a few weaknesses in the action scenes. Although the chase scene involving the tanker is a standout, there are shots where it looks as though the vehicles are not moving very fast. It is off-putting at times because the close-ups command a sense of danger especially when the villains begin their climb on the truck. Then comes the wide shot of the tanker, motorcycles, and cars racing down the road—together in one shot—and suddenly it is less exciting. Perhaps if these wide shots were sped up a bit during editing, it might have maintained that special excitement throughout.
Nevertheless, “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior” is a well-made action film with very few, if any, visual effects when it comes to vehicular slaughter. We see real metal pounding against one another, real explosions, real people on top, on the side, or underneath of a moving vehicle. About thirty-five years later, it still holds up against the best of the genre.