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The future presented in Mad Max is one where society is truly poised on the brink of madness. Composed of biker gangs that roar up and down the long winding roads, the morally dubious cops that attempt to stop them, death, destruction, and burnt rubber tire marks that stretch across the Australian landscape – there doesn’t seem too much left of the world that’s salvageable. Enter into this ‘Mad’ Max Rockatansky; a cop who’s fantastic at his job, but who fears that he will soon have to find a way to save himself or risk becoming as dark, twisted, and insane as the bikers that he chases down.
Mel Gibson plays the title role, and he does so very early on into his career at 23 years old and with only three previous jobs under his belt. Nevertheless, he instantly creates a classic cult hero as we are introduced to him whilst he calmly and silently suits up in black leather, preparing to chase down the manic Nightrider. Meanwhile, as other less capable cops give chase further up the road, we are provided with a showcase of the film’s spectacular stunt work. Cars are well and truly smashed, and it looks spectacular. Whenever this film hits the road it truly comes alive with some wonderful, gritty stunts, and I reckon that this opening scene is the best example of this. Some seriously impressive work is done here and, although the sequel does make everything bigger and causes even more destruction, I rate this film’s stunts amongst my absolute favourite across all the action movies that I’ve seen. They’re one of the, if not the film’s biggest strength.
Of course the other real strength is the world in which the film takes place, it’s a fantastically creative take on the future; intriguing whilst also being hellish, it’s made all the more effective by the desolate Australian landscape. And although the limited budget is easy to spot in places, it also contributes to the disturbing quality of the world as the familiar sights of shops, buildings, and houses are contrasted across the anarchy on the roads. The post apocalyptic wasteland that we see in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior is a fantasy landscape, and that’s great and brings out the inner Fallout fan in me, but there is undeniably something disquieting about the vision of the future that this film offers us, something that is lacking in future installments in the series.
As good as Gibson is as Max, he does fall short when it comes to portraying the emotional turmoil that the character is put through. It’s a shame that this aspect of the film is a little weak because there is some real potential here. The chemistry between Gibson and Samuel isn’t bad per say, but it is lacking somewhat and that doesn’t help matters much. You could choose to blame Gibson’s age and inexperience for this deficiency, and that is perhaps part of the problem, but remember that it was also one of director George Miller’s first films. When you compare how comfortable and assured Miller is with the action sequences, and then compare them to this aspect of the story, it becomes relatively clear that he just wasn’t very comfortable dealing with this at that point in his career. That’s not to say that it’s bad, but that it’s just merely not as good as it should be.
Still, the slightly lacking emotional quality aside, Mad Max is a fantastic action movie. The quiet lead character fits in with the Western traditions that influence the film, and provides an instant coolness that still makes him a cultural icon today. Mad Max is sometimes a little rough around the edges, but at its heart lies a great character study, and even more importantly a fantastic, thrilling action movie. If for some reason you haven’t already seen this film, then do so as soon as you can. It’s not perfect, but it definitely is very entertaining.