Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior



George Miller

Mel Gibson (Max Rockatansky), Bruce Spence (The Gyro Captain), Michael Preston (Pappagallo), Vernon Wells (Wez), Emil Minty (The Feral Kid), Virginia Hey (Warrior Woman), Kjell Nilsson (Lord Humungus)

Fuel Shortage/World War III/Societal Breakdown

“My life fades. The vision dims. All that remains are memories. I remember a time of chaos… ruined dreams… this wasted land. But most of all, I remember The Road Warrior. The man we called “Max.” To understand who he was, you have to go back to another time… when the world was powered by the black fuel… and the desert sprouted great cities of pipe and steel. Gone now… swept away. For reasons long forgotten, two mighty warrior tribes went to war, and touched off a blaze which engulfed them all. Without fuel they were nothing. They’d built a house of straw. The thundering machines sputtered and stopped. Their leaders talked and talked and talked. But nothing could stem the avalanche. Their world crumbled. The cities exploded. A whirlwind of looting, a firestorm of fear. Men began to feed on men. On the roads it was a white line nightmare. Only those mobile enough to scavenge, brutal enough to pillage would survive. The gangs took over the highways, ready to wage war for a tank of juice. And in this maelstrom of decay, ordinary men were battered and smashed… men like Max… the warrior Max. In the roar of an engine, he lost everything… and became a shell of a man… a burnt-out, desolate man, a man haunted by the demons of his past, a man who wandered out into the wasteland. And it was here, in this blighted place, that he learned to live again.” – Opening narration.

Mad Max left a few plot threads hanging but they weren’t really the stuff sequels are made of. Did Goose and Jessie pull through? Did Max recover from his injuries? Was Max charged for stealing the Pursuit Special and taking revenge? There’s not a lot of places you can go from the end of the first one aside from either making there be more bikers come to get revenge for the death of Toecutter’s boys (the Taken 2 approach) or just having Max being forced to act once more and going on a rampage across the countryside killing every bad guy he finds (the Death Wish 2 approach.) How does one sequelize a movie about getting revenge? This is a question that many directors have failed to answer, George Miller just shrugged and said “Blow up the fucking world.”

Mad Max depicted a world in decline as the MFP (or Bronzes) tried to clean up the mess in the face of a decimating war and shortages of crude oil, but the switch from Mad Max’s end credits to The Road Warrior’s opening is still quite a jarring change in venue. Max is still cruising down the road in his V8 Pursuit Special (now referred to as a V8 Interceptor) but it has been modified with a dual 50-gallon drum fuel tank, roll cage, webbing in place of windows, and a booby trap on the tank which causes the vehicle to explode if tampered with.

As we join Max, he’s in the middle of running from some advantageous raiders, most interesting is that one is wearing an MFP uniform with the helmet depicted in the original film’s poster art. After foiling his puruers he’s faced with a lone man on a motorcycle with a pink Mohawk. The man, Wez (Vernon Wells), makes some menacing facial expressions as Max fills his gas tank from the wreck of one of his pursuers’ cars and rides off.

After losing Wez, he comes onto a gyro copter parked beside the rode. He goes up to investigate and finds a venomous snake sitting on the vehicle’s seat, he avoids the viper’s strike, but the copter’s pilot, simply known in the credits as “The Gyro Captain” (Bruce Spence), pops out of the sand and points a crossbow at his head. Max gets the drop on the captain, who bargains knowledge of a nearby foundry where gasoline can be found. Max takes the pilot with him to investigate.

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Max finds a veritable fortress under siege from a group of raiders led by Lord Humungus (Kjell Nilsson).  He saves one of their scouts from an attack by Humungus’ men in order to trade his life for fuel, but the man dies upon arrival and he’s trapped inside. The people in the foundry are hostile to Max and he’s held prisoner until Lord Humungus arrives and offers the people safe passage through the wasteland if they just leave the foundry; there’s a bit of a wrinkle though, when a feral child (Emil Minty) with a metal boomerang kills the pretty blond guy who is always at Wez’s side and drives him into a murderous rage that Humungus can barely hold back.

Max sees an opportunity when he finds out that the people need a vehicle to haul their tanker full of gasoline to the promised land on the North coast where the sun is always shining, and the air smells like warm root beer, and the towels are oh-so fluffy. He mentions a semi-truck he had seen two days ago when he was attacked by Wez and leaves the camp with several jerrycans of gas. He hunts down the Gyro Captain, who he left at their hillside camp that morning, together they put gas in the copter and fly to the truck where Max manages to get it started and head back to camp.

Getting into the foundry proves to be a problem as Humungus’ men are all around, but Max narrowly makes it and the foundry people begin preparing for their trek to the coast. The leader, Pappagallo (Michael Preston) asks Max to drive the truck but Max tells him that their deal is done and after filling his car full of gas, takes off into the wastes. Wez, bearing a grudge from Max’s escape at the beginning of the movie and his entry into the camp with the truck cab, gives chase and knocks him off the road into a ditch where he is badly injured, his dog shot, and the booby trap on his car tripped. The explosion kills all Max’s pursuers except Wez, but leaves him in even worse shape, it’s only thanks to the captain that he’s brought back to the foundry and his wounds tended.

The next morning the group sets out for the coast with Max driving the tanker truck while a few of the tougher foundry people attempt to defend the trailer; most notably the Warrior Woman (Virginia Hey), a character who looks and seems like she should be important to the plot (likely as a love interest or leader-type) but actually isn’t. What follows is one of the greatest most elaborate chase scenes in the history of film as Max races across the Outback, attacked on all side by Humungus, Wez, and their men. Lots of major characters die, blood is splattered, it’s brutal and it’s worth the price of admission alone.

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The Road Warrior didn’t just revolutionize the Mad Max series, it revolutionized post-apocalyptic stories in general. The Fallout series owes a huge debt to this movie, Neill Marshal’s Doomsday does too, Steel Dawn, The Blood of Heroes, 90% of Albert Pyun’s film career, all the post-apocalyptic films that Italy put out following the release of this sequel were varying degrees of plagiarism of this movie, what I’m trying to say is, this is an influential goddamn film.

In fairness, The Road Warrior bites a lot from Harlan Ellison’s A Boy and His Dog (both the movie and the book; also a major influence the Fallout series) and George Miller not only admitted this, but did so to Ellison himself.  The famously cranky and litigious Ellison who lived north of Hollywoodville loved the movie so much that his heart grew three sizes that day and he sat the cease and desist that he was writing in his mind on top of the “never to be finished” pile with Blood’s a Rover and The Last Deadly Visions and all was right in the world. In equal fairness, Miller borrowed mostly just tone and the cynical dilapidated state of the world from Ellison’s novella, laying his established Max Rockatansky mythos over its rich and buttery skeleton.

The Road Warrior, much like its predecessor, demonstrates that originality is unnecessary when there’s a good story involved. Max has gone from the vengeful vigilante to the wandering Man With No Name (a la Yojimbo, Red Harvest, and A Fistfull of Dollars.) He has all the hallmarks of the archetype: the quietness, the aloof and greed-driven concern for the people he’s protecting that turns into honest valor when the chips are down, this movie even has the usual moment where our anti-hero is beaten senseless early in the third act and then comes out wounded but triumphant in the finale.

Speaking of wounds, I appreciate that Max accrues battle damage. At the start of the film, Max is wearing his uniform from the end of the first film but he’s missing a sleeve (likely removed to care for the wounded arm run over by Bubba Zenetti in the first movie) and a leg brace (likely to brace the knee he took a bullet in.) He seems tired and weary, and his wounds carry with him throughout the film. Max is a badass to be certain, but he’s not an unstoppable action hero, he’s a human being and he still sits down and eats cans of dog food because there isn’t anything better around and carries an empty shotgun for which he can barely ever find ammunition.

This movie also re-iterates Max’s purpose from the first film. In the original, he tried to run from his duty as a protector and found that he couldn’t escape from the danger by not seeking it out, that it would find him wherever he went. Max is capable of surviving on his own, but he finds a purpose in protecting those less unstoppable than he, even if he knows he can no longer be close to others after the death of his wife and son.

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There is one aspect of this movie I do not like. The Gyro Pilot is the sort of goofy sidekick that lesser movies lean on, it’s only through Bruce Spence’s charismatic grace that I accept this character after a fashion. But the other sidekick, the tiny feral child who doesn’t speak (there’s that trope again) and looks like a more proportionate Warwick Davis, manages to annoy the shit out of me even though he doesn’t have a single line.

Max, to his credit, is much better this time around and though Mel Gibson is still barely performing, he does so with a great deal more gravitas. Max only has sixteen lines of dialogue, most of them one sentence long (roughly equivalent to Fury Road’s amount for Tom Hardy.) So as before, its the supporting cast that largely carry the movie, though Max is far more central to the plot this time.

We get two main villains this go-round and though Lord Humongous and Wez are pretty great, neither of them is quite as memorable as Toecutter in personality. Oh sure, Wez’s pink mohawk and chaps without pants beneath are goofy and iconic looking, and Humungus looks like BDSM Jason Voorhees so that’s pretty cool, but they are never nearly as captivating as the weird guy with the wild eyes and exaggerated facial expressions from the first movie.

Interestingly enough, an early draft of the script involved Lord Humungus turning out to be Goose, apparently healed from his burns in the first movie but permanently disfigured. The plot point was removed but hints were stuck in that it could still be him, though it’s never reveled: the raiders use police cars with light bars and sirens, many of them wear MFP police uniforms like Max, Humungus speaks over a police car loudspeaker, and he carries a police-issue looking firearm in a small wooden box (though the Nazi Death’s Head logo inside is somewhat confusing.) It’s not officially canon, but I choose to believe it is.

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There is an interesting dynamic with the gang that seems to involve a lot of blatant homosexual overtones (not just their bondage gear), I think this may have been somewhat inspired by the character of Fellini from A Boy and His Dog; Fellini is depicted in the book as a mean-spirited pedophile who takes young boys under his wing and protects them and feeds them in exchange for servitude and sexual favors.  This thread is only blatant in Wez’s relationship with the pretty blond-haired man who never leaves his side, though Vernon Wells maintains its a platonic father-son type relationship.  Many have postulated that the members of Humungus’ army have merely adopted an “any port in a storm” philosophy to satisfying their sexual urges, and that their fluid sexuality may be due to the fact that women are in short supply.  It is of note that Wez seems firmly uninterested in raping a woman that his small group catches, though that’s not necessarily a confirmation of his sexual orientation.

The Road Warrior was intended to be the final word on Max Rockatansky’s life, with his future left unknown and ambiguous, but fate would show that George Miller wasn’t quite done with the character and that spawned the series’ final installment for thirty years. We’ll tackle that on Friday.

Your choices this go-round are merely okay. You’ve got a shitty double-feature DVD with Beyond Thunderdome, a standalone DVD, a Blu-ray of the same, that trilogy set I mentioned last article, as well as Amazon instant. Hopefully Shout! Factory or some other company equally dedicated to releasing great genre films (I could honestly see Criterion doing this) snaps up the rights soon and we can get that fully uncut version that only exists on grainy VHS tapes.

“Right or wrong, we had a deal. And the law says: bust a deal and face the wheel!”

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