Mention Mad Max to most people under a certain age – ok, let’s say 40 – and they will think of the endless hunting movie with Tom Hardy which was Fury Road. But all the way back in the fog of time, Australia’s foremost mad genius director George Miller made three Mad Max films in quick succession, between 1979 and 1985. They played Mel Gibson – a man who continued to be synonymous with the word “Mad” for many years. afterwards – and they were outrageous. These post-apocalypse movies are perfect for cyberpunk petrolheads, action movie enthusiasts and anyone who loves the sight of muscular men with mohawks riding souped superbikes in buttless guys. Strictly speaking, all guys are buttless, but you see what I mean.
All three original Mad Max movies came on Amazon Prime at a fairly recent time – I’m not sure exactly when – so I saw them all again. To my considerable astonishment, they seemed even better than I remembered they were when they were seen illegally on VHS tapes from the local newsstand while I was at school. This is partly because the image quality is 1000 times better, and partly because they are much weirder, deeper and more fun than they looked at first glance. This is not stupid action movies – although they certainly give a lot of stupid action.
All three films have good to good reviews from Rotten Tomatoes and excellent fair terrible audience characters. Which, of course, made the video an overnight sensation.
Gale Max. The original film may come as a surprise to anyone who has only seen the sequels and the quasi-remake / reboot Fury Road. Set in late ’70s Australia, it finds Mel Gibson as Max Rockatansky, a highway cop who police the naughty, sun-baked and virtually endless roads of the Australian outback. Needless to say, he does this in a fucking muscle car while wearing unnecessarily tight leather. The car is a Ford Falcon XB GT with a LARGE supercharger in front, and it sees a lot of action during the film’s tight, 93-minute driving time.
The film captures the themes of the Mad Max series, despite being quite different from the others in terms of plot and setting. Max is crazy as hell, the villains he meets are ridiculous over the top and the tone is so macho that it becomes determined and deliberate camp. For example, can we talk about Max’s boss? This big, shaved muscle Mary does not seem to own any shirts, and he is definitely overtrimmed with the police under his command, you ask me. Like the equally homoerotic Top Gun, Max’s best friend is called Goose, too. Coincidences? You decide.
Critics score 91%, audience score 70%, min score 95%
Mad Max 2 aka The Road Warrior. Here the series takes its step. Like all the best sequels, Mad Max 2 is just like the first movie, but even more so. However, George Miller came up with an absolutely ingenious way to develop the series. Where Mad Max is set in a collapsing society, the sequel – given the much more evocative title The Road Warrior in the United States – is set after an actual nuclear apocalypse. This immediately increases the effort and puts anyone who is not a heavily armed punk in a futuristic motorcycle gang in a certain disadvantage.
Mel Gibson looks significantly more knotty here, which is good makeup and hair work, since in reality it had only been 2 years since his much more boyish appearance in the first film. He roams the wilderness and comes to the rescue of a group of suspiciously clean-looking people sitting inside an oil refinery, waiting for it. Some even more outrageous camp villains in bondage gear and ice hockey masks unnecessarily try to steal all the black gold. The result: edges on the seat, extreme violence and dark humor.
For me, this is the highlight of the whole series, and one of the best action movies ever made. The HD restoration work done on it is quite obvious, especially since my memories of Mad Max 2 are very much from the VHS and DVD era.
Critics score 94%, audience score 86%, my score 96%
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Yes, so the audience hated this movie and the same thing I did at the time, but there’s a lot that’s good about the third Mad Max movie. It is Tina Turner’s appearance as the ruler of ‘Barter Town’, a Mos Eisley style of villainy and scum, but apparently the only ‘civilization’ left in all of Australia, at this time. It’s a battle between Max and a huge brute called Blaster, performed with big spears and clubs as they fly around the titular Thunderdome on elastic cords – no really. And it’s a final hunt that, to be honest, is a little too close to the climax of the second film, but which is still quite enjoyable in itself.
The reason why most viewers disliked Beyond Thunderdome when it was released is partly that it is more “Hollywood” than the first two films. But what people really did not like is a long section where an exiled Max is with a bunch of weird kids. They have created their own community after an outback plane crash that killed all the adults, and are waiting for a ‘Captain Walker’ to return who will fly them to safety in the ruins of the plane. At the time, I found this whole bit very tired and on the verge of banal compared to the edgy, violent and hysterical camp first two movies. But look now, it’s a very moving part of the film, and all the child actors are remarkably good, as is Gibson, who really elevates his play in this film in general.
The drastic change of pace during this part of the film is a good example of how original and eccentric George Miller’s direction is often. Another strange thing about the Thunderdome is that it has a character that flies a small plane. In Mad Max 2 it is also a character flying a small plane. And he is played by the same actor. But it is not the same character. I expect that made sense at the time.
Critics score 81%, audience score 49%, score min 90%.