[REVIEW] Mad Max 2 (1981) – ManlyMovie

[REVIEW] Mad Max 2 (1981)

Mel Gibson in Mad Max 2.

Runtime: 90 mins
Rated: R
What To Expect: A full-blown masterpiece that hasn’t dated in the slightest.

It is indeed rare to behold a sequel which surpasses its predecessor, but Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior is a textbook illustration of such a case. Furthermore, this follow-up to the low-budget 1979 Australian grindhouse gem stands as a phenomenal achievement as a standalone motion picture, a gonzo post-apocalyptic action-adventure that remains one of this reviewer’s personal all-time favourites. With a bigger budget, Mad Max 2 takes full advantage of its premise, yielding an organic continuation of the original movie as well as an amazing Ozploitation actioner on its own merits. The scope is bigger, the production values are sublime, the filmmaking is more proficient, and plenty of vehicles are wrecked – Mad Max 2 stays true to its B-movie roots whilst adding a bit of polish, and the result is pure dynamite.

Several years have elapsed since Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) lost his wife and child, and in the interim, civilisation has deteriorated completely. World War III broke out, and its effects on society were irreversible. No cities remain, law enforcement services have vanished, and petrol has become the world’s most valuable commodity. Danger and uncertainty have become part of Max’s daily routine, with every day a struggle to find sufficient food and fuel to survive just a little bit longer. Traversing the desolate landscape in his V8 Interceptor, Max happens upon a fortified oil refinery with plenty of precious “juice,” but a gang of vicious murderers are determined to get their hands on it, threatening to kill everyone if their demands are not met. The colony wishes to take their gas and leave, thus Max strikes a deal with them: he will secure a big rig truck to haul the fuel in exchange for as much petrol as he can carry. However, the marauders – who have set up a camp nearby – are not willing to let anyone escape.

One does not need to have watched the original movie in order to “get” this sequel. Mad Max 2 actually begins with a skilful black-and-white montage of images set to voiceover narration that outlines the events leading up the collapse of society, and effectively re-introduces us to Max by recapping the first film. What’s particularly notable about Mad Max 2 is its concise storytelling and breakneck pace, both of which are achieved without neglecting crucial character or story development. It’s a model of efficiency, and it’s so fast-paced and deliriously enjoyable that its ninety-minute duration simply flies by. It’s over before you realise it, and you’re left begging for more, a sign that this is one fucking badass movie.

The real star of Mad Max 2 is, of course, the stunt work. Returning director George Miller uses all the extra funds at his disposal (the budget was over $2 million whereas the first movie was produced for barely $200,000) to create a joyously crazy action picture peppered with multiple car chases. There is not a single bit of CGI to be seen here; Mad Max 2 is the result of stuntmen putting their lives on the line for a sake of a shot. It’s hard to believe that nobody involved in the production wasn’t severely maimed or killed, given how bonkers many of the stunts look to be. (Only one stuntman was injured.) Naturally, it’s the twenty-minute climactic chase which closes the picture that really shines, with at least twenty-five vehicles barrelling down a desert highway at insane speeds. Although it’s a lengthy sequence, Miller and cinematographer Dean Semlar sustain the chase, continually upping the ante and maintaining an edge-of-your-seat level of tension. There are a few shots which were obviously sped up, but such moments are all part of the feature’s goofy charm. It’s all topped off by a pounding soundtrack courtesy of Brian May, who also scored the 1979 movie.

Luckily, production design remains as colourful as ever, with imaginative vehicles and awesomely inventive costumes. Max’s V8 Interceptor is one of the most iconic vehicles in cinema history, and its inclusion here is most welcome. The Interceptor which was used for the first film was actually salvaged and re-used here, a small detail that’s nevertheless appreciated. Mad Max 2 continues the strong western theme of this series, finding Max as the archetypical, morally ambiguous antihero in the same vein as Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name. Max is even more of an antihero here than ever before, as he is no longer bound by his duty as a police officer. Unsurprisingly, Gibson nails the role yet again, relying more on stern facial expressions and restrained dialogue delivery. The cast is jam-packed full of colourful faces, from Bruce Spence as Max’s new ally, to Vernon Wells (Bennett from Commando!) as one of the campy bad guys.

The original Mad Max was a niche release in the United States, hence this sequel was renamed The Road Warrior by its North American distributor to avoid any confusion. Miller has actually said that he has always considered Mad Max 2 as a chance to re-do Mad Max properly, with the benefit of a bigger budget and more directorial experience. The first film remains a classic, but Mad Max 2 is definitely superior, an infinitely enjoyable guy flick that’s literally never boring. This may be an action movie built on a thin premise, but movies of this ilk are all about the execution, and they do not come much more thrilling or exhilarating than this.