I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

The Road Warrior

(or MAD MAX 2)

Man, I love MAD MAX. So raw with its low budget, so fierce with its ridiculous car stunts and harsh view of humanity. There’s something about that one that nobody has really captured again. Still, in a way this amazing sequel takes it to a new level.

The world is further down the shitter now. Society is not just crumbling, it’s in crumbs. Max is still hauling ass down Australia’s highways in his Interceptor (the last one left), battling high speed maniacs and stealing any gas he can find. The opening scene is the most reminiscent of the first movie, a classic chase scene. It also introduces the gang that will be the villains in this one. Vernon Wells plays Wez, the dude with the mowhawk and shoulder pads, riding a motorcycle with his blond punk (or bitch, or desert life partner) on his back. On the other side a dude in a car tries to shoot Max with a crossbow, but Max hits the brakes and the arrow hits Wez in the arm.

Mad Max 2: The Road WarriorAlthough this chase is full of all kinds of great violence and vehicles catapulting through the air, my favorite part is the little exchange at the end, after the engines have all been turned off. As Max examines an abandoned truck he found Wez and his bitch pull up and stare him down. Wez still has the arrow in his arm. He screams and at first it seems like a battle cry but then you realize it’s because he’s pulling the arrow out. And then he puts it in a sheath with his other arrows and drives off.

This one is much more mythical than the first one. It’s not a cop movie anymore because there’s no police force left – in fact, the gangs drive stolen police cars and like playing with the sirens. So it’s more influenced by spaghetti westerns and samurai movies. Max barely talks and there are long sections with no dialogue. Not only the two extended chase scenes, but the part where he spies on the oil refinery through binoculars. There are all these far away shots of this place with its machines pumping and all these crazy souped up jeeps and motorcycles and dune buggies rolling around, and you realize that this was before the days of CGI, they actually had to do all that at the same time, for real. These days nobody would do a shot that complicated, they’d leave it up to the computer nerds to rig later.

Even more than in the first one director George Miller has created this whole world with a different way of living, a different culture. The villains have a bizarre lifestyle based around S&M and sports gear they must’ve scavenged from a stripmall somewhere, maybe there was a Big 5 sporting goods store next to a Castle Superstore or a Lover’s Package that they found after the nuclear war. There are alot of mowhawks involved too.

The leader is Lord Humongous, a muscleman who wears a goalie mask and never takes it off. The back of his head is weird and mostly bald and this is before Jason put on the hockey mask in part 3. So I guess that answers my question about whether or not Jason goes to movies. Lord Humongous also inspired many a 1980s professional wrestling tag team, and he travels with male sex slaves chained to the front of his vehicle, which could be popular with rappers before long, mark my words. And yet Humongous is a well spoken guy. He has a hype man who introduces him as “the ayatollah of rock ‘n rolla”, then Humongous holds a microphone and makes a speech trying to convince the oil refinery clan to surrender. And I am almost positive that it is word for word the same speech Bush made when he told Sadaam to “disarm.” Except Bush was wearing pants. Arguably.

On the good guy side there are some great characters too. There’s “gyro pilot” played by Bruce Spence, the weird pilot of the little helicopter that Max tries to steal from and then they take turns taking each other hostage. This guy wears a long coat but no pants. In fairness, it is the desert. My favorite moment with him is when he watches Max take a shotgun shell off of a dead body and put it in his gun. So he realizes that Max has been threatening him with an unloaded gun. “All this time!” he says. “That’s dishonest. Low!”

But if I had to choose a favorite character in this movie it might be that ferocious little bastard “feral child.” Nobody likes child sidekicks but this kid is the Michael Jordan of child sidekicks. He can’t be as annoying as most because he doesn’t talk. He can’t even have an emotional moment where Max hurts his feelings and realizes he’s wrong and has to apologize to him and give him a pep talk. This kid just howls and growls. But he’s a bad little fucker, he climbs on the back of the truck to help Max, he can do a flip, and he’s a master of the bladed boomerang. One of my favorite parts is when the hype man tries to catch the kid’s boomerang and it cuts his fingers off. Then everybody on his own side laughs at him.

So you’ve got this great world and characters and a perfectly simple story, like a good western. It all comes out of Max wandering around scavenging. To save himself from Max, the gyro pilot tells him about the oil refinery, says he could steal from it. Max stakes the place out and witnesses Humongus’s gang attacking and raping a couple coming from the refinery. The woman is killed but Max rescues the man, and you think he’s getting involved because of the way this attack mirrors what happened to his wife. But no, he helps the guy back to the refinery hoping they will give him gas as a reward. Purely selfish. But he ends up stuck in the middle of this tribe’s war with Lord Humongus and ends up helping them.

By helping them, I mean driving a truck in a spectacular 15 minutes chase. He drives this rig at top speed, chased by all these guys shooting at him with guns and arrows, trying to climb on the back, while his guys shoot from on top of the truck or from other vehicles. All kinds of good shit happens, for example the gyro pilot drops a snake on a guy causing him to shoot his own driver. There are explosions, crashes, motorcycles sending their drivers flipping through the air in ways you never thought could be done without cables. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good CGI spectacle, but this is so much better because you know they’re really doing this stuff. I don’t think there are even any models used. It’s all stuntmen becoming great artists by not becoming roadkill. These people risked their lives in the name of kicking ass. And they’d do it again.

It’s a winning formula: the story is simple, the action is complex. But you always know what’s happening. You might be plowing down the highway at 150 mph, but you see the geography (including from the gyro POV so you can see the whole layout of where all the vehicles are).

Of all the great moments in this great movie, the most satisfying may be at the end when Max and the gyro pilot, having survived the ordeal and learning that what they thought was going on was not really what was going on, they just look at each other and smile. And these are two guys who have not exactly been best friends – they’ve tried to attack each other with knives and snakes, Max has put the pilot in chains, and wouldn’t give him any leftovers from the can of dog food he ate. (Those went to his trusty dog, “Dog.”) But now they’ve fought this battle together and they are buddies enough that they can smile at each other. But don’t go thinking they’ll become desert life partners, the pilot has a girlfriend and he never sees Max again. Still, it was some good times they will always remember.

I watched THE ROAD WARRIOR with somebody who’d never seen it (!) and who asked why they are fighting over gas and not food or water. After all, we see Max eating dog food and I don’t think we ever see water. I never quite thought of it that way but it makes me realize another way this movie is great. Because ain’t that the truth? That’s how fucked the world is. They are fighting over this commodity that in reality is kind of a luxury. Max needs gas because he likes to driver around the highways in his Intercepter. The Humongous gang needs gas because they like to ride around in their dune buggies and on their motorcycles. Many Americans need gas because they have SUVs. But none of these are essential to life.

The most responsible gas (or “juice”) users seem to be the oil refinery tribe. They don’t seem to be nomads, they’re not wasting the stuff driving around doing donuts and wheelies. I think they want the fuel to power more areas and rebuild civilization. They want it for mankind. Even still, it’s kind of cool to have a Utopian collective who dress in white but their thing is pumping gas, not organic farming. In the future even hippies are part of the oil industry.

TRIVIAL ASIDE WITH HEAVY SPOILER: It’s pretty amazing that the feral child turns out to also be the narrator. That little fucker went from speaking in grunts and wolf howls to being so eloquent he was a leader and narrator. There are plenty of us who grew up speaking good English but would never speak well enough to be a narrator. But this guy went from grunts to narrator. I think it is a tremendous accomplishment and I’m very proud of the little guy. I’m sure his adoptive wolf parents must feel the same, wherever they are.

Anyway, point is ROAD WARRIOR is one of the best ever. Come for the badass anti-hero and some of the greatest car stunts of all time, stay for the flawless and imaginative movie. A must-see.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 7th, 2007 at 8:42 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

29 Responses to “The Road Warrior”

  1. Is the word on the new one that Miller is finally making Fury Road but calling it something else, or has he actually overhauled the whole thing, story-wise?

  2. Well, I don’t want to get too excited because it’s had so many close calls. But I haven’t heard anything about overhauling, I think it is still the same movie he planned back in 2003 but most likely with someone replacing Mel Gibson as Max. Supposedly he’s had it all scripted, storyboarded and designed and now somebody is claiming he’s had the cars all built and ready to go which makes sense considering how close they were to shooting before the Iraq War fucked it up.

    But until this week I had given up because there had been that story that he was salvaging the story as some 3-D anime project. So I don’t know.

  3. Oh, that’s cool. And honestly, after rewatching this movie last night, I honestly wouldn’t mind if Gibson wasn’t involved. He was really just channeling that mood and stance of a Man With no Name kind of guy, but doing a really fucking good job of it. Get someone with that kind of charisma and no one will be to pissy. Except the assholes posting in AICN talkbacks, but they’re hopeless.

  4. I don’t know, man. Mel IS Max, and he’s only gotten madder as the years have gone by. Sure, someone else could do it, but I want to see Mel do an older, crustier Max. The movie might turn out to be good, but I’ll never fully forgive it if it’s Gerard Butler or somebody like that instead of Mel.

  5. I’ll be bummed to if Mel isn’t in it, but I’ll fault Mel for that, not the movie. And I’ll be easier on his replacement then other people probably will, because of how many times Mel had the chance to say ‘yes’ and get this thing rolling over the years.
    And how exactly would you define ‘iconic?’ Because I’m not sure how well Max applies. He’s got a great look, a great badass attitude and he can drive like no one else. All these things are great, and all these things are performed well by Gibson, but whose to say someone else couldn’t put on that costume, drive those cars and come across just as good?
    I guess my main point is: does Mel Gibson define Max, or is Max simply a great that Gibson got to play? I think this is one of those things that is completely separate for everyone who loves Mad Max movies, i.e. everyone. So we’ll see.
    And I think ‘Old Max’ as you put it, will be a factor in this movie. Everything that’s been reported on this movie makes it sound like a direct continuation of the other three movies, not some fucking stupid reboot shit. So we’ll get to see the continued evolution of that crazy world Max lives in, which is cool because the world of Max is one the most well-drawn, complete looks at what the apocalypse would look like and how it would develop. Bartertown, or whatever it’s called in the third one, is a great example of that, how society keeps changing, in some ways to be similar to the old one, in others to be completely disparate. Only Romero has done it as completely, and then he fucked it all up by hitting the reset button, right when he’d gotten to the point where those plans of his for giant, epic zombie armies would have been perfect.
    I’ll wrap this up by saying that FURY ROAD or whatever it’s gonna be called better be fucking made this time, and it’s refreshing to know that Miller has never truly given up on this movie, even in the lean years. It gives hope that that crazy bastard will keep plugging away until it finally gets done. The world needs another Mad Max, needs more crazy aussies willing to risk being pulverized into goo for the cheering audiences of the world. So…yeah.

  6. In the mid 80s, HBO used to play this and BEYOND THUNDERDOME all the time, so as a young kid I must’ve seen these (especially the third one) at least a dozen times. But I didn’t really remember them, so I started watching again now that they’re streaming on Netflix.

    This one is excellent. MAD MAX is fun, even though it has some strange pacing (seems like the real meat of the movie, the revenge, is only the last twenty minutes), but man, ROAD WARRIOR is awesome from start to finish.

    You’re right Vern. The feral kid is the best child sidekick you can think of. Glad to see he cleaned up his act and made something of himself.

    That little laugh near the end between Max and the pilot… anyone else get a TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE vibe from it?

  7. I gotta prefer Short Round to The Feral Kid, but it’s apples and oranges. Anyone else shocked by the fact the Feral Kid straight up KILLED Wez’s boyfriend with the boomerang? As a kid I always thought he caught it in the head by accident on a return throw, but nope, Feral Kid just killed him.

    But seriously, this movie does get better and better with repeat viewings (even though the two twists at the end are spoiled). It truly is simple yet mythic and primal, like an R-rated fairytale.

  8. awesome review vern, just posted my reviews of Road Warrior and Thunderdome on my website.
    For me though, Thunderdome doesn’t really fit with the other two as it does contradict them, but it’s still a badass movie.

  9. Watching Mad Max 2 as my Sunday afternoon flick. To paraphrase Clarence Worley from TRUE ROMANCE- “Mad Max 2 is a fuckin movie!”

    Also, probly old news to most of you, FURY ROAD is getting closer to seeing the light of day. Real happy about Tom Hardy as Max.

    And what’s not to love about Charlize Theron playing a character named Imperator Furiosa? Holy fuck.

    Sounds like an evil Barbarella.

    I’m in love.

  10. Some lucky bastards got to watch an early print of FURY ROAD this week. Only thing that kinda worries me is the one guy who said the movie is basically a full length extension of THE ROAD WARRIOR’s third act.

    That makes it sound like these other obnoxious and loud blockbuster movies today that overdo the action to the point that you become numb to the spectacle instead of being amazed by it. I hope Dr. Miller isn’t drinking that 21st Century Mainstream Action Kool-Aid. We’ve waited too long for this.

  11. I still refuse to care. I’m not angry about it or anything. It’s just that you got guy who hasn’t directed a grownup movie since Griff was in diapers and hasn’t worked in live action since the late 90s making a CRYSTAL SKULL-style mercenary reboot, minus the original star, even though the original star would be even better in the role now than he was then. I understand that there’s a very, very good reason why that is, but I don’t have to be happy about it. Hardy is fine, I guess, but knowing I’ll never see Mel as an old, grizzled Max is just too much of a bummer for me.

    If it’s good, I’ll be glad. I like car chases. If it’s not, at least I won’t crushed with disappointment like you poor bastards.

  12. Mr. Majestyk – “knowing I’ll never see Mel as an old, grizzled Max is just too much of a bummer for me.”

    Yeah not gonna lie that’s definitely a downer. I even would’ve been ok with the rumored bookend scenes with Mel as an older Max reminiscing about the times where he looked like Tom Hardy.

    TBH if it was just WB rebooting MAD MAX I probably wouldn’t even bother. Since it is Dr. Miller coming back to his labor of love though I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. Even with his kiddie movies he still proves he could competently structure cool action sequences like the Killer Whale segment in HAPPY FEET.

  13. Yeah, I might be being unfair. I haven’t seen any of his kiddie movies so maybe he’s still got it. I’d just rather assume the worst and be pleasantly surprised.

  14. I mean, in my defense, have you seen that fucking penguin? I’m supposed to watch that fuzzy little turd dance to Pink songs for 90 minutes, and sometimes Robin Williams is some kind of Mexican penguin or something? Why do you hate me, George Miller? What did I ever do to you?

  15. Since when was CRYSTAL SKULL a reboot?

  16. I guess it keeps the same timeline and characters but there needs to be a word for these very late-in the-day franchise extensions that attempt to revamp old franchises for new generations, like TRON LEGACY and CRYSTAL SKULL. I’m not saying they’re always bad (RAMBO is one, after all) but “sequel” just doesn’t seem strong enough. FRiday the 13th Part VIII was a sequel. Jason X was…something else.

  17. Do we really need to label sequels that are obviously sequels, just because they have certain elements in common? What’s next? Words for sequels, in which not the full cast returns? Sequels with the same characters, played by different actors? Can we not just call sequels sequels when they are obviously sequels?

  18. I suppose we could. Just these ones that come much, much later feel different and have different tasks to accomplish than ones that come a year or two later. They’re not just sequelizing, they’re also revamping and reintroducing. But I suppose we already have too many bullshit terms as it is.

  19. I consider those movies franchise revivals just like the upcoming BEVERLY HILLS COP IV or GAME OF THRONES Guy Presents: TERMINATOR. Still sequels in their own right but with more of an obligation to make those properties relevant again than a conventional sequel.

  20. Can we all agree on “revivequel”?

  21. That sounds about right. Better than wrongfully labeling them reboots like many ignorant writers on movie websites tend to do.

  22. In the spirit of not being a tool, I’ve decided to stop being so negative about this new Mad Max movie. I’m not psyched about the recasting, which is gonna make it feel more like a remake than a continuation of the story, but fuck it, an outback car crash extravaganza is always welcome, whoever the fuck’s in it. Resume your regularly scheduled parade, sans piss.

  23. Am I the only one who finds it hilarious how certain international posters sell “Mohawk Biker” as one of the main attractions of this movie? http://www.impawards.com/1981/mad_max_two_the_road_warrior_ver3.html

  24. Ha, CJ, especially weird since I think there were like 5 Mohawk Bikers (or maybe not, on last rewatch I think I finally noticed the guy who tries to shoot the tanker with his wrist-crossbow and gets sucked under, is the same asshole who rapes the woman and Max knocks out earlier on).

    Saw this with the lady-friend last night, I think she kinda hated it – I’ll say even though it’s a classic that everyone still talks about, it’s definitely not as accessible as other 80s action classics (Die Hard, Predator, Robocop, etc…) – there’s something really otherworldly about it; you can’t watch it like the movies above, you have to grade it through the same eyes as you would a foreign-language movie or an old western from the 60s or something. Actually it’s kind of fitting Miller went into the family-movie business, since you also have to kind of grade it like a kid’s film – the narrative is so streamlined that I actually do wonder if I saw this for the first time in my 30s instead of being like 10, if I would have enjoyed it so much. (Come to think of it, if they excised the rape scene, the movie could totally pass for PG-13 today.)

    Oh, IMDB says that Lord Humongous was supposed to be Goose (Max’s partner) from the first one. He may still be, due to the mask and the burn scars and apparently they had a similar gun. Not sure how I would have liked that twist if it happened, I like how independent the two movies are of each other.

  25. “Come to think of it, if they excised the rape scene, the movie could totally pass for PG-13 today”

    Over here, the movie not just recently got off the index after 20+ years, but also got re-rated from an “18” to a “16”. It always makes me smile when formerly “shocking” movies later get the “It’s okay for teens who aren’t allowed to drink yet” stamp.

  26. FURY ROAD officially the best reviewed summer release so far.

    Why did the internet doubt Dr. Miller again?

    yes I’m still mad about JUSTICE LEAGUE: MORTAL.

  27. I don’t know that it would get PG-13 – you’ve got fingers sliced off, lots of people dying by sharp objects, a good deal of blood. I mean, it’d be a fairly soft R on the violence scale, but it’s pretty blunt about its violence, and not afraid to splatter blood where it’s needed. It’s exactly as violent as it needs to be, not more, not less.

    Which is actually a good description of The Road Warrior – it’s exactly as much story, action, characterization, and thematic depth as it needs. Not too much of any one of those, to bog it down; enough of all of those to be completely satisfying.

  28. Ah, I forgot about the sliced off fingers. I actually thought one of the “goriest” parts is when the dude takes the grappling hook to the leg and gets pulled off the tanker, and that part is totally uncut in the theatrical trailer on the bluray!

    Speaking of which, the blurays for this and thunderdome are $5.99 each this week at Best Buy. They’re absolute no-brainer purchases – watching this for the first time in HD (and probably widescreen to be honest) was like watching it for the first time.

  29. Due to some mistake during the transfer to a newer video release the first version I saw in the theater and on VHS, where you see a close-up of Wez’ arm before he pulls out the arrow and the again when Wez moves the boomerang so that his lover’s scalp move a bit, are said to be lost forever. Miller’s first version was so violent and bloody that he re-edited it down to the current version before he turned it in to be reviewed. So we can all relax, there is no longer, gorier director’s cut coming out further down the road. But we can hope, right?

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