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Mad Max Retrospective: Mad Max 2 aka The Road Warrior (1981)

Road Warior thumbWith my recent review of the Blu-ray for Mad Max from Scream Factory and its relatively convenient timing, I’ve had the itch to keep going writing about the series over here on Why So Blu.  No, this won’t be a review of the Blu-ray that has been out forever (Fun Fact: It was the fifth Blu-ray to be put in my collection).  This will just be a piece minus all the tech specs and recommendation.  We started with Mad Max and will go on through Mad Max: Fury Road and at the end rank the films (Where you can tell me how wrong, stupid, unqualified or dumb I am).  Those familiar know I do this kind of thing for my Naptown Nerd blog, but I thought since this one started over here at Why So Blu that I would just see the whole thing out here.  Today, we’ll continue on with Mad Max 2 or as many will call it, The Road Warrior.

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Mad Max is an odd series in that most peoples’ starting point isn’t the first movie.  And many more went a long time without realizing there was even a first one.  While the original was popular, it wasn’t really all too big in the United States.  Warner Brothers didn’t want to try and sell a sequel to a film they felt many people didn’t see.  They even strayed away from referring to Max in the advertising.  Simply put, they branded the film, The Road Warrior.  Unintentionally, its significant that its just more that really sets this film apart from the others.  Its the only one that doesn’t have Max in the title, but moreso its also its miles ahead of its predecessor and it successor.  In a rare case, there’s not really any dispute.

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The Road Warrior is successful in both being a sequel and its very own film.  Yes, we have the further adventures of ex officer Max Rockatasnky and the further desolation of the post apocalyptic wasteland world established in the original.  However, if you’re first entering the series at this point, you get a brief recap as to who Max is.  But, you also really don’t need it at all.  I’m not saying the first movie is useless, but for watching The Road Warrior, its not required in the slightest.  The film now plays like Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo or one of Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name Westerns.  Our “hero” is some hardened drifter/wanderer and he’s not some guy with a heart of gold, but he’s our guy.  He’s true to himself and his actions, and that’s why we follow him and support his twists and turns.

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George Miller is a man with vision here.  He knows how best to work this film.  The plot of the film is kept relatively simple.  That doesn’t mean its dumb or anything.  Miller saves the complexity for the visual details of “how” everything folds out.  The challenges and detail is all saved for the imagination behind the sets, costuming and action choreography.  Its a film that has a distinct look, feel and life to it.  Whatever this desolate future was, it was well received around the globe and when you see something even the slightest bit similar, your mind reverts right back the opus of The Road Warrior.

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The action in this film is out-freaking-standing to say the least.  Real stunts, real effects, real cars, real drivers.  Its not JUST the fact they’re using all this, its that Miller has an eye for it all and every shot matters.  All the movements of the cars are precise, easy to follow and give you a sense of scale and stakes for every crash.  The film starts with a chase, adds one for good measure in the middle and then a big finale at the end.  In between are some decent plot moving scenes and more hand to hand violence.  While some may argue against, but Miller’s film is really one big action film with a couple of breaks in between.  Its really non-stop, full throttle action entertainment in the finest.

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Mel Gibson takes his role to another level even though he’s speaking a heck of a lot less.  You really recognize that this guy is so far removed from who he was the last time we saw him.  He’s become such a renegade that you wonder if he even truly remembers his family or if only just remembers being driven by the pain caused.  This Max Rockatansky is a man that doesn’t need to speak just to be speaking and he doesn’t have any compassion unless he’s dealing with you to further his own gain.  And he looks like a complete badass.  He’s got a companion in the form of a dog, and he even seems to have a business-like relationship with it.

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Max gets some interaction with friends and foes here, memorable all the same.  Notably we get the gyrocopter pilot played by the toothy Bruce Spence.  The character is cartoony only in the sense that he leaves a memorable impression.  Then we get a nemesis in the form of Wez, who’s a postapocalyptic biker gone all sorts of crazy.  His unwieldyness brings a wild card to the table and a sense of discomfort whenever he takes the screen.  Our big bad is ‘The Humungus’ who donned a hockey mask one year before Jason Voorhees capitalized on it.  While he talks a big game, has a great design, and is intimidating he’s more the face of the organization and its not really personal as it is with Wez.  That said, the guy looks like something out of a nightmare, and that’s enough.  Then there’s that weird kid who is also our narrator.

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Mad Max 2 was a wildly popular film, even if its merely just a top flight cult movie still to this day.  Its also a sequel that has the rare feat of going bigger, going above and going beyond the first film.  You can’t definitively say The Godfather Part II or The Empire Strikes Back, popular follow ups, are sequels bettering their predecessors because you will get many great arguments back in favor or the previous film.  But, The Road Warrior is resoundingly better.  I’m sure the first one does have some who find it better, but its too light to merit it.  Plus, when Mad Max is referred to, reference, parodied or ripped off; its The Road Warrior that they’re cribbing from.  Italy in 1982 pretty much only put out Road Warrior knock offs (Some of them are entertaining, but plenty of garbage too).  This movie really influenced filmmaking in general.  There’s shots, pacing, ideas and throwbacks still going on today that derived from this movie.  Universally claimed as one of the best action movies ever, I say why sell the film short?  Its one of the best movies ever made.  Period.

Road Warrior POSTER

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

3 Responses to “Mad Max Retrospective: Mad Max 2 aka The Road Warrior (1981)”


  1. Aaron Neuwirth

    Awesome

  2. Cash

    Its my least favourite of the three but I know im i the minority as most people like this one best.

  3. Brian White

    Excellent write up! Sitting here waiting for Fury Road to begin in 40!!!