As Mad Max roars back to the cinema, the second of Jokerside’s glimpses back at the original trilogy. As the gas ran out on the Road Warrior he reluctantly found himself in the middle of a highly influential, lean second film and then an extraordinary stab at Hollywood excess. (Like the man himself, a few mild Fury Road spoilers fade into the mix near the end).
SO RAN A TAGLINE FOR MAX’S RETURN TO THE BIG SCREEN IN 1981. IN SO MANY WAYS THE FIRST FILM WAS PERFECTLY SELF-CONTAINED… BUT IT ALSO LEFT A WIDE OPEN ROAD IN FRONT OF THE ROAD WARRIOR. And George Miller, feted by a Hollywood that offered him the reigns to films like First Blood, couldn’t resist exploring that world with a higher budget. The first part of this retrospective looked at the essential Max Factor, those crucial bits of legend that feed through the entire franchise. It took an extra-long look at that opening 1979 film, an extraordinary piece of revenge with a proud place in the grand tradition of the Australian road movie. That first film could have gone anywhere, where it went was beyond expectations.
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
“Only One Man Can Make a Difference”
This is it, the film that all other Mad Max pictures need to live up to. It set the template from the middle of the trilogy, the leanest and most influential of three different visions… Remember we left him a broken man without hope? Now, he’s fully set, cold and survivalist. This is the cue that Fury Road picks up, rewriting the second instalment more than others. Like the James Bond comparison that keeps coming up, Max can lose his Interceptor twice in part two and four, just as Bond meets Blofeld twice in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice. And if there’s any part of this diverse trilogy that Fury Road should mimic it’s the second one.
This is the film that makes the favourites list of directors like Fincher, Del Toro, Cameron and Rodriguez. A film that followed one of the greatest budget-to-box office success stories of all time, and somehow managed to extend the story, drama, depth, action and potential of the franchise. It had a budget 10 times the original, built the biggest film set Australia had ever seen and managed to film its script in order. Oh, and only gives its leading man 16 lines of dialogue.
Here Max comes into his own. Gibson cuts an iconic figure in the Frankensteined leather, cuts and mismatched clothing explained by the injuries that concluded the first film. Striking, solitary, threatening, stunning. It’s a deep, dark study of a man with heart-felt character touches. The film raises its game to match, allowing not just for broad sweeps of the desert outback, but the mass of converging vehicles the original couldn’t stretch to. Chasing, sparring and locking spoilers. It all creates a heady mix revolving round the impassive Max.
The Silent Type
“If you had contract it was with him – and he died with it”
The dark figure of Max has been condensed, and the film feels no pressure to recap the events that created him. Very few concessions are made to explain his actions and general self-serving, self-survivalist nature. But there are sparing and effective glimmers that play with it. One of those comes with a music box mechanism, much like one that was set to appear in Fury Road but seems to have ended up on the cutting room floor. Left alone, after watching quietly main villain The Humungus articulate his offers to the refinery outpost at the heart of the film, Max passes the mechanism to the Feral Child who had inflicted the most damage on the marauders though secret passageways. Resolute for much of the film, Max doesn’t show emotion at thee death around him, nor even at the loss of his Falcon later on. He’d equipped it with a booby trap, so would never have let him become too attached to even his precious wheels. But when he impassively considers this Feral Kid and passes him the mechanism he took earlier from a crashed gang member, he almost manages a smile – albeit a mirthless one. It’s superbly carried by Gibson, taking a firm grip of one of cinema’s great men of few words. But it’s also so much more. Set five years after the first film, the Feral child isn’t far off the age his own child would have been. And like Max, the child’s left without anyone – although lucky enough not to be saddled with the knowledge or tragedy of the previous world. And tellingly, this scene comes just after Feral Kid has inflicted the kind of emotional trauma on villain Wez that helped to create Max. So the tragic cycle of this world keeps turning.
Yes, it’s five years later and society has moved on, even if not up. But also, Max is far from the urban decay and loose infrastructure of the first film. In that time, deep in the outback The Humungus has amassed a gang of berserkers. A far more formidable crew than Max encountered half a decade before.