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

The Road Warrior (accidental second review)

Note: Like most people of the planet Earth, I re-watched the whole MAD MAX trilogy during this last week of a decade of waiting for FURY ROAD. And I knew I’d never done a write-up of MAD MAX before, so I did one. I followed that up by writing about ROAD WARRIOR. And then I realized that I already wrote a review of it 8 years ago. And sometimes that’s fine because I think my old review is sucky and I can do better now, but actually I kinda like that review, I made some good points, and I called Wez’s bitch his “desert life partner,” which was pretty good.

But let’s be honest, we’re not gonna think about a god damn thing besides Mad Max between now and 7 pm tonight and whenever we see the new one, so what the hell. Here is my alternate dimension review of THE ROAD WARRIOR where I still love it in the same way but say it in different words.

* * *

tn_roadwarriorYeah, I always liked MAD MAX, but THE ROAD WARRIOR (or MAD MAX 2 as most of the world calls it) is more my speed. Get it? Speed. ‘Cause that’s one of the things George Miller knows how to capture on screen. Even the mythically narrated opening montage establishing Max (née Rockatansky) as a legendary hero seems to be moving fast, then the screen opens up wide, we pull out of the blower on Max’s car and the movie just launches us down the highway. The insane car stunts of the first one are multiplied, now we have even more cars flyiing through the air, rolling, flipping, smashing through each other, dragging broken pieces (or people) behind them, scraping across the pavement, spraying sparks, shooting pieces of rusty debris in all directions.

Wherever Max was before, where there were bars and homes and children and stuff, he ditched that fuckin place and now he scours “the wasteland” with all the other thirsty leather-clad psychos. And I kinda doubt the Halls of Justice are still standing anyway, it seems like shit has gotten worse in general, and we know from the montage that some forgotten factions of humans went to war and dropped the bomb on each other (in old black and white stock footage). Whatever the current socio-political situation is, we know that guys like Max travel the desert roads looking for crashed cars, or causing crashed cars, and trying to steal any leaking or unused gas, or “juice.” It’s a snake eating its tail, really.

Max doesn’t have a family anymore, but he has a dog. Named Dog. Max gets first dibs on dog food when they find it, though. Still, Dog is a good partner. He holds a prisoner at gunpoint, string tied from him to the trigger.

mp_roadwarriorMax finds out about a small tribe defending an oil refinery aorund the same time they get an ultimatum from The Humungus (Swedish weightlifter Kjell Nillson), a hockey-mask and S&M gear wearing muscleman who leads a gang of bullying biker scavengers, many of them with mohawks and spikes and well-bound prisoners propped up on their vehicles like extravagant hood ornaments. His main henchman seems to be Wez (Vernon Wells in his first movie role), who became the prototype wasteland barbarian for a million ROAD WARRIOR rip-offs throughout the ’80s (as well as the pro-wrestling tag team The Road Warriors). He sports a red mohawk (sometimes with face paint), armourized football shoulder pads (with feather decorations), studded belt and codpiece, and leather gauntlets with a wrist-mounted mini-crossbow. And behind him he carries his bitch, a skinny blond androgynous kid with a leather shirt that exposes his nipples. I know it’s wrong to call somebody “his bitch,” but calling this guy his boyfriend would be more offensive. He keeps him on a chain leash. We all know what’s going on here.

(For the record, the credits call him “The Golden Youth.” The actor is credited as “Jimmy Brown,” but apparently really named Jerry O’Sullivan, and this is his only movie.)

One thing that’s great about The Humungus is that he has his own hype man (credited as “Toadie” and played by Max Phipps of DARK AGE) to introduce him before he threatens the colony over a microphone. I’m surprised the guy doesn’t come out and put a cape on him like Danny Ray for James Brown or hold a mirror in front of him like Jerome for Morris Day. But then when Humungus himself talks he’s surprisingly eloquent. He didn’t need a mouthpiece. It’s all razzle dazzle. The guy’s an entertainer at heart.

He gives the tribe 24 hours to leave or be killed. During that window one of their guys gets attacked, his wife killed, on the road. Max doesn’t rescue him but he cynically brings him home injured in trade for gas. Max wants to stay out of this conflict, and the people at the refinery guilt him, or try to, for being so mercenary. The leader Pappagallo (Michael Preston, METALSTORM: THE DESTRUCTION OF JARED-SYN) guesses that Max lost his family. He does not guess that Max’s late wife played saxophone. I think Max cares a little, even though he hides it by framing it in business terms when he makes a deal to go get them a truck he saw on the road. The people eventually catch on, but wisely treat him with suspicion and disdain most of the time they deal with him.

If it weren’t for all the car chases this would be a western. I guess maybe it still is, because there’s definitely a feel of jumping from horses to stagecoaches during some of these chases. They use a combination of guns and bows. There are scenes of camping out on hills, watching people through binoculars and telescopes. Max doesn’t wear a hat, but he’s the mysterious drifter who excels at violence and acts cynical and uncaring but turns out to have a code. The old gunslinger. And it’s a movie about the open desert, wide shots showing dozens of vehicles and madmen from far away, beautifully shot by Den Semler (who went on to direct FIRESTORM with Howie Long and THE PATRIOT with Steven Seagal).

The dialogue is economical, the story is elegantly simple, the atmosphere is thick. There’s an imagination in this world that in a weird way reminds me of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. Giggling insane people prance around caked in dirt and dried sweat, saying things that are difficult for the reasonable to understand. Pieces of metal junk are put together in ways it seems only a sick mind would figure out. (Art director Graham “Grace” Walker was later production designer for BEYOND THUNDERDOME as well as THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU.)

The lovable supporting characters include The Gyro Pilot, played by weaselly, lip-licking Bruce Spence (REVENGE OF THE SITH) in a cartoonish costume that predicted modern hipster fashion (skinny pants or leggings, scarf, ridiculous hat), and the Feral Kid (Emil Minty), a howling and growling little wild thing who wears a tail like he thinks he’s an actual animal. He also knows how to do a backflip and commits murder with a bladed boomerang. Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi!

Man, I love that scene where the Toadie tries to catch the kid’s boomerang and it cuts off the tips of his fingers. All his friends immediately laugh at him, and after a bit he laughs a little too, like “Okay, ha ha, it is kinda funny. I can laugh at myself.”

That Max looks out for the Kid says something. It’s just like a suspected: he does still give a shit. He had a kid of his own in the first movie, so it’s kinda like the surrogate parent and child relationship of Ripley and Newt from another all time classic movie that happened to be a part 2 and came out a few years later. But Max and the Kid are reticent to express emotions, or to talk at all, so they never admit to it.

Of all the great action movies, few are able to demonstrate this level of imagination. There are so many cool little details: the shielded bus that the colony uses as a gate, all the crazy pimped out cars and dune buggies, the guy carried around on bungie cords, the trick they play on the bad guys without letting Max in on it.

And of course the climactic truck chase is a masterpiece of action. There’s a tanker covered in spikes, gunners, a rocket car, grappling hooks, guys jumping from vehicle to vehicle, shooting arrows, breaking off doors, blowing out windows. It goes on around 15 minutes but never stops feeling fast and dangerous. And furious too, I guess. I’m sure the FAST AND FURIOUS guys rewatched this scene a thousand times since it’s a model for complex car battles. It even has what is now a FAST trademark: a guy driving a car fast and holding his arm out telling someone on another vehicle to jump to him.

We’re talking about a movie of such potent badassness that it earns one of the most bombastic scores possible (Brian May again), as well as another metal logo and now two reviews by me. THE ROAD WARRIOR belongs in the hall of fame.

other George Miller movies I’ve reviewed:

MAD MAX

TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE

MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME

HAPPY FEET TWO

Everybody have fun and drive safe and what not. Don’t try to catch any boomerangs. When next we meet I will have become a man.

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 Thursday, May 14th, 2015 at 10:14 am and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

39 Responses to “The Road Warrior (accidental second review)”

  1. “He keeps him on a chain leash. We all know what’s going on here.”

    What if they live in a healthy, respectful I-stop-when-you-say-“red” BDSM relationship? I mean, Wez definitely seems to be upset over the loss of his poxiclyptic life partner, to the point where he gets so mad, that Humungus has to put HIM on a leash, just to make sure that he won’t do anything stupid when his feelings take over. I don’t think he would be that upset if he would be just his “bitch”. (Also in one later scene, a tent gets pulled away during a car chase, revealing a man and a woman of Humungus’ gang having sex, that looks definitely not rapey, so who says those murdering bastards are incapable of having feelings for each other?)

  2. I saw FURY ROAD last night. It’s everything you heard and maybe more.
    I won’t spoil anything, of course, but I want to share this thought. Maybe you agree with me, maybe not.
    I understand the need for a younger Max in this post apocalyptic word, instead of a guy who’s almost sixty; but, man, Mel Gibson as Max is like Connery playing Bond, and Tom Hardy is like George Lazenby.

  3. And just to add to what CJ Holden wrote, doesn’t Hummungus tell Wez something along the lines of “We’ve all lost someone close to us” as a way to make him hold back a little and to express a little empathy. From my reading of the film, Wez genuinely cared about his partner, even if he was also a psychopath.

  4. Amid all the punk and S&M stylings of Mad Max 2, there also seems to be a Trojan War aesthetic mixed in there as well – not just the extended siege of the good guys’ homestead, but the costumes, which look a bit Greek-ish, with all those bare legs and strap-on pieces of armour and Mohawks and so on.

    So I always thought of Humungus’s gang as the Greeks, with Wez as Achilles, in which case The Golden Youth would be his Patroclus – the best buddy (some say boyfriend) whose death in battle turns Achilles into a furious killing machine.

  5. Proof that having a bitch does not preclude mourning him/her when he/she is gone:

    https://youtu.be/rueScMSnRP4

  6. I think Miller -as, let´s say, Brian de Palma- understands his villains. They love, they laugh, they care about their wardrobe, they enjoy life. And they are brutal as fuck. That creates a texture that really submerges you in those worlds.

  7. I also saw FURY ROAD today. It is the shit.

  8. Lup11, yes Hardy is like Lazenby. They both starred in the best movie of two franchises.

  9. Excellent interpretation, Anne. I never thought of it that way.

    I appreciate everybody’s different takes on The Golden Youth. I think you make valid arguments, but I have no doubt in my mind that that poor kid didn’t have a choice and just learned to go along with it. It would be cool if in another one they had a similar couple but the big guy dies and it’s the effeminate one that rages for vengeance.

  10. Yes! Effeminate Golden Youth kicks ass. THAT’s what I want to see next. Also, it would REALLY annoy those guys who have been whingeing about Fury Road being “feminist”.

  11. The interesting thing about these Mad Max movies for me is that no matter how many times I see them, they stay with me like dreams. Which is to say I sort of only remember them in the abstract and then I need to see them again, at which point I always notice new details, or details that I simply forgot. This has served me well since in the last two months I have watched Road Warrior and Fury Road twice each and revisited Mad Max and Thunderdome, and already want to see Thunderdome again and Fury Road a third time.

    George Miller talks about being inspired by dreams too so it’s fitting.

    Also, Franchise Fred approves that every version of Road Warrior I’ve seen says Mad Max 2 in the titles.

  12. I had the chance to see Fury Road today, but passed it up for a big screen showing of Repo Man.

    I do wanta watch the old films again first.

  13. Watched Fury Road last night; loved it. I’ll comment further in the forum for the review, when Vern posts it.

    Anne – I’d like to say that the guys who have been crying about MM:FR being a feminist movie are not really ‘men’ in any meaningful sense, but are likely to be either trolling to get a rise out of reasonable people, or (more likely) are weiners who are scared of women. The kind of people who feel threatened by the mere existence of a character like Imperator Furiosa.

    Regarding the Golden Youth and Wez, I have no doubt in my mind that any ‘love’ in that relationship was very much one-sided.

  14. JeffreyNothing

    May 15th, 2015 at 4:12 am

    In high school I thought I was a badass because I memorized the opening monologue, then before going onstage for a school play I would recite it to myself to get my focus right. Thinking about it now, I think it did kind of make me a badass.

  15. Vern, has anyone ever gotten a perfect score on the Action Comprehensibility Rating System? (trademark/copyright)

    These golden words are giving me a cinephile erection:

    Mr. Miller’s world has its rules. Viewers raised on the more baroque, digitally enabled forms of blockbuster spectacle are likely to admire the relative simplicity of “Fury Road,” while aficionados of the traditional slam-bang methods will revel in its coherence. Even in the most chaotic fights and collisions, everything makes sense. This is not a matter of realism — come on, now — but of imaginative discipline. And Mr. Miller demonstrates that great action filmmaking is not only a matter of physics but of ethics as well. There is cause and effect; there are choices and consequences.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/15/movies/review-mad-max-fury-road-still-angry-after-all-these-years.html

    Plus, why the fuck do you not have clearance to do a genuine review-before-general-release arrangement? Vern, what do you have to do or we have to do to get you to be able to review this coming golden nirvana before the unwashed masses?

  16. 300 2 got a 5.

  17. So did JACK REACHER.

  18. John Wick came so close with a 4.9.

  19. As a kid I had a kind of dim awareness of the MAD MAX trilogy. The third one was a new movie on pay TV at the time, and while I think I only saw it once back then it did make an impression. (I’d probably never seen a movie that took place after the end of civilization, so it seemed weighty for that alone.) And the original seemed to be a basic-cable staple – or at least I taped it one time when it was on and was thus able to rewatch it.

    The acclaimed middle chapter kind of passed me by though. I vaguely remember staying up one night (as a kid? as a teenager?) to watch a very late night showing of it, but I know I fell asleep and missed big chunks of it, so the experience did not stay with me.

    So when I was in my 20s/30s and my local revival theater showed the trilogy, it was a chance to rediscover all three films in the proper sequence … and also my first proper introduction to THE ROAD WARRIOR in its entirety, on the big screen no less. And yes, I was quite blown away.

  20. CrustaceanLove

    May 15th, 2015 at 7:59 pm

    Saw FURY ROAD last night and will probably see it again this weekend. Will wait for the review to comment, but rest assured, it’s as good as everyone says it is. Takes the great action set-pieces and world-building of the original trilogy, cranks the knob up to eleven and then snaps it off. And the knob has a chrome skull on it.

  21. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    May 16th, 2015 at 12:58 am

    Saw Fury Road last night. I’m delighted to say that it’s all going to be ok when you go in there and watch it.

    This film is incredible, I can’t wait for Vern’s review and other talkbackers thoughts.

  22. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    May 16th, 2015 at 1:00 am

    Oh, and it’s worth stumping up for the spectacles and seeing it in 3D.

  23. BR, I believe JACK REACHER and 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE are the only 5.0s so far. While I hammer together my FURY ROAD review, any thoughts on that? On one hand I have zero complaints, on the other hand it does get a little overwhelming at times, maybe enough to deduct a sliver of a point? I haven’t decided.

    It’s hard to judge. When I saw JOHN WICK on blu-ray it seemed like a 5.

  24. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    May 16th, 2015 at 1:43 am

    Considering the volume of carnage on the screen, the way the viewer can follow everything clearly must deserve top marks?

  25. I think the geography of the chaos is surprisingly well put together. Never was I in doubt where the camera was or who I was following. I think FURY ROAD is perfectly executed.

  26. I’ll save my longer comments for later, but if anyone is planning on seeing Fury Road in 3D, I’ll back up Ace and say it was one of the few times I didn’t regret paying extra. They clearly included certain moments specifically for the 3D experience.

  27. Jealous of you all, I can’t even get to see it today. Going for 3D based on these comments.

  28. Yeah, it’s highly coherent overall. I do worry sometimes that the ACR might be doing some harm with these reviews, because to just rate it in terms of how clear it is* could divorce the action from the intent of the action being shown that way. Maybe we’re not SUPPOSED to be able to quite understand what’s happening during a violent car crash or a ginormous sand storm, because if you were in one yourself, the experience would be very disorienting and confusing, so maybe making it hard to follow is a way to be more immersive.

    *which Vern has made clear before is the point, a “just the facts” recounting, but I think some people are looking at a less than perfect score and considering the removed points as deficiency

  29. Saw Fury Road in 3D and it was fantastic but I really want to see it again in 2D. I have nothing against the use of the technology. per say, but I can never quite shake the sight of the glasses frame in my peripheral vision. I always feel I am looking through an aperture at the screen. It’s like the difference between viewing the countryside through a car window or being in the scenery from the saddle of a motorcycle.

  30. Re: the ACR

    Ninja II also got a 5. So that’s three total, I believe.

  31. “It would be cool if in another one they had a similar couple but the big guy dies and it’s the effeminate one that rages for vengeance”.

    This happens in the manga Shamo: the ‘hero’ is sent to jail for murdering his own parents, raped by a tough convict, manages to castrate him with his teeth (you read that right), the effeminate boyfriend of the rapist swears vengeance and happens to be pretty badass himself. There was a film adaptation in Hong Kong, by the guy from Dog bite dog and the Johnnie To produced Motorway.

  32. I just noticed something really stupid about the ending to this: Why do they fill the tanker with dirt? I mean, I know it’s so that the audience can get that it was a decoy, but…what purpose does it fulfil in the actual sotry? Because if they just kept it empty, they’d have been carrying less weight and could have gone faster in the run at the end.

  33. It’s a decoy for Max. So he thinks he’s carrying the gas, while they get out the back door with the load. They used him, basically.

  34. You need weight in the trailer or it’s just going to sway all over the road and be hard to control. Plus, Max would figure out that the trailer was empty pretty fast and might decide not to risk his life as a mere decoy.

  35. The Original Paul

    June 9th, 2015 at 6:46 am

    Finally saw ROAD WARRIOR.

    And fuck, I’m gonna be “that guy” again, aren’t I. Not that I don’t think it was good. It was good.

    I’m gonna start making excuses for a film that you guys obviously love. Number one, I saw it almost completely spoiled. I wasn’t coming in “fresh”. Number two, I should probably have watched it before watching FURY ROAD and not afterwards, because after seeing FURY ROAD, ROAD WARRIOR’s weaknesses are all the more apparent. (Didn’t Vern say something in his FURY ROAD review about a new generation of kids not being able to appreciate ROAD WARRIOR because of FURY ROAD? Guess I’m the first one of them.) Number three, the weight of expectations on this one was tremendous. I’ve heard it hyped in every which way possible.

    Here’s the things I really liked: Bruce Spence is fantastic in every scene that he’s in. The feral kid with the boomerang is great, too. I love that moment near the beginning where Lord Humungous is giving his speech and all of a sudden he’s interrupted by this little guy hurling a boomerang at him. There are moments (although not, I’d say, as many as in FURY ROAD) of fascinating what-the-fuckery, such as the bit where Mel is driving the truck back to the compound and he blows over one of the thugs’ tents, only to reveal the thug and girl-thug inside having sex.

    Here’s the negatives… I didn’t like the look of the film (a completely subjective complaint that I’ve had about every MAD MAX film except FURY ROAD). The post-apocalyptic dustbowl thing does nothing for me, as does Mel Gibson as Max in this one (at least when he’s not playing off of Bruce Spence). But maybe that’s deliberate. MAD MAXes 2, 3 and 4 were all primarily about the supporting cast, not Max himself. I think that ROAD WARRIOR’s strongest moments are with the happy campers and Bruce Spence.

    And sadly the villains do nothing for me either. You guys mention the “golden youth” but he was just kinda there, then he wasn’t. Honestly it seems like this dates the film more than a lot of other things in it. We’ve got past the point now where homosexuality is a “character trait”. You need more than that, and I just wasn’t seeing it here. As far as Humungous goes, he’s a guy in a mask with a megaphone. I don’t know if he has a code or not, I don’t know much about him, I don’t know how he got to where he is. There’s just not enough to him.

    So yeah, it had some good moments, but it also felt kinda long. I had to watch it in two sittings. I think it’s outdone by FURY ROAD in just about every respect. And I think that’s a good thing – I don’t want films to be worse than their predecessors, which is what often happens. I feel like ROAD WARRIOR was the practice run to FURY ROAD’s strikeout.

    But I look at the BADASS 100, and I see FURY ROAD up there with DIE HARD (are we really saying Mel in this one is as effective or memorable as Willis in DIE HARD?) and 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN and SEVEN SAMURAI and DIRTY HARRY and ROBOCOP and the three great Bruce Lee films and many, many others. And I just cannot see how it fits into that kind of company. To me, watching it today, it feels really dated in a way that none of those other films, even the older ones, do. Again, this might just be because I’ve seen FURY ROAD. But still… damn.

    Sorry guys. I liked ROAD WARRIOR but I’m not on board the love train for it.

  36. The Original Paul

    June 9th, 2015 at 6:49 am

    That second-to-last paragraph should read “I see ROAD WARRIOR up there with DIE HARD” etc.

  37. Paul – “are we really saying Mel in this one is as effective or memorable as Willis in DIE HARD?”

    When it comes to “Bad ass-Mel”. I prefer Riggs to Rockatansky any day. Max may be a more mythic character, but Riggs fits much better into Mel´s persona.

  38. The Original Paul

    June 10th, 2015 at 6:34 am

    Shoot – now that you’ve said that, I agree with it so damn much. What is it about Mel Gibson and crazy?

    I will probably always prefer the LETHAL WEAPON movies to the MAD MAX ones.

  39. Riggs and Max are like oil and water. It’s a true testament to Mel’s god given talent that he could iconically play brash and stoic and resonate with millions of movie goers throughout the years through both roles.

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