My mind is still being pieced back together after bearing witness to the masterpiece that is Mad Max Fury Road so I decided to turn back to the second film in George Miller’s post-apocalyptic franchise, The Road Warrior, because every fan had been ultimately comparing the latest flick — to that one as either being equal to, or just below it in terms of quality. I had not seen it. Ever.
After avenging the death of his wife and young son at the hands of a vicious gang leader, Max (Mel Gibson) drives the post-apocalyptic highways of the Australian outback, fending off attacks from nomadic tribes that prey on outsiders. Falling into an encampment led by the relatively peaceful Pappagallo (Mike Preston), Max at first schemes to steal their oil, but soon becomes the group’s reluctant defender against the hulking Humungus (Kjell Nilsson) and his ruthless marauders.
I grew up only seeing the first movie, Mad Max, and never bothered to pursue the second and third. I had heard Max Mad Beyond Thunderdome wasn’t that great and for some reason The Road Warrior never ended up in the pile during one of my weekly VHS rental sprees at the local shop back when those used to exist. It was time to finally see what all the fuss was about. Hardcore Max fans were all over their socials to say stuff like ‘Mad Max Fury Road was pretty good but it ain’t no Road Warrior’ – Eric Powell, creator of The Goon Comic. And so forth….
I loved Fury Road so hard and after watching Road Warrior this past weekend, I still consider the latest in Miller’s franchise, to be the greatest of the bunch. It’s hard for a film made in 1981 that I didn’t grow up with to compete with something made for billions of dollars more over 30 years later, so I expected this movie wouldn’t hold up as well. In many ways it certainly did not, but it also surprised me in the end. The way Miller constructs his stuntwork and practical effects is genius.
Fury Road is being praised for it’s use of practical effects and stuntwork over the usual CGI-laden summer blockbusters which rule the market. After seeing how brilliant Miller’s work was in The Road Warrior, it’s no surprise how he pulled this off. I have massive respect for the director, who I had largely ignored for most of my life as a fan of the movies and for that – I am sorry world. He’s simply one of the best.
The Road Warrior recaps the events of the first film quite well right off the bat and we’re ultimately thrust into this gross and violent landscape where Max (yes it’s Mel Gibson and I know we all hate him now, but that doesn’t change how great he once was) scrounges for fuel while leather clad psychos chase him down. The opening chase scene is badass and still holds up surprisingly well in 2015. There’s a goopy dead guy here with his eye’s popping out of his face and that was great stuff – stuff you don’t see anymore which is a shame. Bring me more goop!
Gibson’s Max is a quiet and stoic character so it’s hard to confuse the silent and unassuming hero as either stale or boring. Max is very much the modern day Man with No Name and Miller’s apocalyptic outback is his wild west. Max doesn’t want to be a hero but he’s thrust into these life or death situations and in the process he becomes that guy out of necessity. The way Gibson plays him is great and it’s the same way Tom Hardy plays him now in Fury Road. Max is the definitive anti-hero cowboy badass who just happens to be the not-so-nice guy that ends up saving you from the even worse not-so-nice psychopath (usually someone in an over-the-top maniac mask)
The premise is fairly simple, Max winds up in this small town that is being harassed by a roving gang of maurauders led by a hockey masked Lord Humungus and over the course of his stay, he helps them fend off the villains, culminating in a car chase that is without a doubt one of the best I’ve ever seen and they did it in the early 80’s.
Earlier in the film, Max takes a hostage and while he’s riding in his car, he configures a trap where his dog has control over a shotgun rigged to go off in the unwilling passenger’s face. I’ve never seen anything like that. It was hilarious and terrifying. There’s also an amazing scene with a feral child who throws a boomerang that ultimately sticks into a marauder’s head, killing him instantly. Due to the jarring way practical effects were pulled off back in the day, I did laugh at the silliness of it all, but that was the only time I found myself judging the movie for coming across as ‘dated’.
The climactic car chase sequence in The Road Warrior is what made the movie for me. After having seen so many in Fury Road I wasn’t sure anything else could surprise me. Boy was I wrong. Spoiler alert: Watching Max drive into a head-on collision with the villain was one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen in a movie. I literally yelled “Holy shit” multiple times. It was insane. I believe I also said aloud, “People died doing that, what the hell was that?!”
So although The Road Warrior is what I expected it to be in terms of it being dated, I was still very much impressed and that final action scene alone is worth your time to pick this film up. After having seen Fury Road I asked myself how this 70+ year old director could pull off such an insane movie but I should’ve been better prepared because if I had seen Road Warrior all those years ago I never would have had the balls to question George Miller.
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