Movies Retro Review: MAD MAX written by Robert Reineke March 1, 2015 “The world doesn’t believe in heroes anymore.” MAD MAX, released in 1979 in Australia, is a product of its time in being a mix of movies like DIRTY HARRY, DEATH WISH, and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE as it presents a dystopian future of society collapsing. Given that it’s clearly an Ozploitation film, that collapse also happens to feature a collection of tricked out cars and motorcycles, extreme biker gangs, and a bevy of chases and stunts. MAD MAX, like most small budget films, has a stripped down, simple plot. Frankly, I consider that a virtue of small budget filmmaking. The film opens with Max (Mel Gibson) running The Nightrider off the road, fatally, after a bravura car chase sequence. But The Nightrider’s gang, led by The Toecutter, played with a lot of style by Hugh Keays-Byrne, vow revenge. After one of their number is captured after an assault on a young couple, they target Max’s friend, Jim Goose, for revenge, ultimately burning him alive. Max takes it hard, threatening to resign, but is instead convinced to take a vacation with his wife and son. However, Max’s wife soon crosses paths with Toecutter and his gang and they target her, ultimately killing the son and leaving her in critical condition and likely death. Max, instead of sticking by his dying wife, puts on his police gear, steals the department’s V8 interceptor, complete with blower, and sets out on a mission of revenge, killing the gang and then setting out for the outback and parts, and a future, unknown rather than return to crumbling civilization. MAD MAX was George Miller’s first film and he makes a statement with has action filmmaking and editing. The biggest thing that George Miller does is that he sets the camera low so that you can see the pavement screaming by the screen when mounted on a vehicle, or see the cars whoosh by with the power of a high speed train when the camera is unmounted. It’s an extremely effective choice, and with Miller also being very good at communicating the geography the action scenes make a lot of films with much bigger budgets look like amateur hour. George Miller was already an action film master with his first film. A lot of credit is also due to all the stunt men who are clearly all crazy and committed. There’s a real element of danger to the stunts in the film and everyone involved is clearly risking life and limb. And it pays off, even in small ways, as you can see a motorcycle clearly crash into a helmeted stunt man’s head in one scene. The domestic scenes are another thing though. Most of the scenes back at the office or between Max and his wife make little to no impact. They’re not necessarily bad, but they are uninspired. The scenes between Max and his wife, have little zip to them. While you can see the seeds that would blossom in GALLIPOLI and THE ROAD WARRIOR that would make Mel Gibson a major star, he’s still learning his trade here. There’s an impact, including a brilliant bit of staging with the murder of the wife and child, but there’s not great chemistry or great drama there. One of the things that does work is that it clearly acknowledges a battle between fascism and anarchy. The film opens with Max, literally, a short distance from “Anarchie Road” and him standing as perhaps the last line of defense for a crumbling civilization. In his black leather police uniform, Max is a throwback to the attraction of fascism and stands in a similar place as Judge Dredd or Robocop. Obviously, THE ROAD WARRIOR was an influence on THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, specifically in the form of the Mutants, but you have to wonder if Batman’s anger and how he metes out justice also comes out of MAD MAX. And, of course, Alan Moore borrows Max’s final actions for Rorschach in WATCHMEN. It might be more complicated in MAD MAX though, as Max’s instincts are to embrace the anarchy and abandon society altogether in the end. Max has the duality that’s he a fascist that’s secretly just as mad as the anarchists he singlehandedly brings justice too. Those two sides of the same coin is a trope that reached full flowing in comics of the 1980s and 1990s. MAD MAX is relatively low key compared to its successors. Honestly, I prefer the successors which are decidedly unhinged in a lot of ways. The Mad Max of THE ROAD WARRIOR and his world, is the iconic image of the series. The success of MAD MAX was necessary to fund the sequels, MAD MAX made $100 million worldwide on a budget of less than $1 million, but it’s a film that stands in the shadow of its influences, particularly A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, bravura action scenes notwithstanding. While I prefer what came after, it’s important to remember that MAD MAX is still a vital part of the franchise. The remnants of Max’s police uniform and his limp will be a constant. What are we to make of the fact that Max’s wife loses an arm in the apparently fatal attack from Toecutter’s gang and Charlize Theron’s Furiosa is clearly missing part of an arm? Max is haunted by the death of his child, and saving kids (and the future) is what he does in the sequels. There’s a sequence of Toecutter’s gang pole vaulting onto a moving tanker truck to steal gasoline which seems to have a larger than life parallel in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. Hugh Keays-Byrne is the leader of the gang in MAD MAX and the leader of the gang in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. Heck, the statement that “The world doesn’t believe in heroes anymore.” is addressed again when Tina Turner sings “We Don’t Need Another Hero” in MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME. Continuity is loose in the MAD MAX franchise, but every movie is consistent thematically and in character. That vitality is why MAD MAX is still worth revisiting. It is rough around the edges and clearly the work of a first time filmmaker, but its action stands up to time and it’s also a film of ideas. And it lays the foundation for one of the finest action films of the 1980s which would burst to life in less than two years. MAD MAX isn’t a masterpiece, not by a long shot, but it’s a classic in its own right. Retro Review: MAD MAX was last modified: February 21st, 2016 by Robert Reineke Related Mad MaxRetro Review 2 comments 0 Facebook Twitter Google + Pinterest Robert Reineke previous post Chris Hemsworth On What Thor Sees In Marvel’s AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON next post SUICIDE SQUAD: Will We See The Joker Tomorrow? You may also like The Fight for SNOWPIERCER October 22, 2013 MAD MAX: FURY ROAD Makes a First... June 26, 2014 Open Forum: TERMINATOR: GENISYS June 30, 2015 Open Forum: JUPITER ASCENDING February 5, 2015 New Teaser Begins The Countdown To INTERSTELLAR’S... December 14, 2013 See Official Photos From JURASSIC WORLD! June 12, 2014 The Hunger Games – President Snow Calls... June 25, 2014 Katniss Takes Aim In The Final Poster... September 30, 2013 A Cornucopia Of New Images From THE... September 20, 2013 Open Forum: THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. August 13, 2015 CaptainJack Great article Robert. George Miller certainly did a lot to promote the growing film scene here in Australia to a much wider market with this film and even more so with its more popular sequel. It has a similar feel to what Peter Weir was doing with the B-movie The Cars That Ate Paris, and traces of films like Wake in Fright, but much more accessible – almost as crazy and experimental, but more connecting to films as you say like the Dirty Harry’s of Hollywood etc, set in an outback that was framed to be deadly and mysterious, and downright manic. Not a masterpiece, true, but it definitely deserves its place in not just Australian film history, but revenge-flick action cinema as well. Michael Lalaian I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never seen any of the Mad Max films, but I’m definitely going to rectify that issue before Fury Road comes out.