The Mad Max series will be brought back to life this year or next year, depending on when the next entry in the series comes out. That is exciting news to me, yet it also resulted in the re-airing of the entire series on AMC. Sure they edited some material out, yet since I already watched the entire series before (the first two on Netflix, the last one on TV) that really doesn’t matter. The Mad Max movies follow the classic “Heroic” style trilogy, in which Max goes through multiple stages of characterization. The first film is purely an origins story, where as the second movie is Max becoming a hero, and the last film sees him embodying someone larger than life, passing on into legend and myth. None of this would be possible without the excellent performance of Mel Gibson, who was perfect for the role.
Mad Max (1979) is a strange mix of car driven action movie and horror film, ushering in a new style of apocalyptic type movie making. Its also a highly effective B-movie, a low budget film that ended up becoming a huge surprise hit. However this movie depicts the calm before the storm, or at least merely contained chaos, chaos that threatened to completely overwhelm what was left of organized society. Max and his fellow officers are the kid with his finger in the dyke, attempting to prevent anarchy from winning out. Anarchy though in the form of Toecutter and his motorcycle gang presents itself in extremely violent fashion.
George Miller, the series director and screenwriter (along with others throughout the films) smartly realizes that implied violence is far more disturbing and powerful than violence shown, although Mad Max features even onscreen violence to shock the viewer. A horrific and violent event is what changes Max, resulting in him embracing his dark side and using his brutal nature to achieve his own brand of punishment. Not justice, for the men he ends up hunting are not tried in court, but not revenge truly either because Max gives these men more of a chance than they deserve. Punishment is the right word for what he deals out, and its harrowing to witness.
Naturally a successful movie with a character such as Max usually results in a sequel, and therefore George Miller and Mel Gibson made Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. I actually think that the first film is slightly better while still also noting that The Road Warrior is a truly great sequel. There are not too many films that manage to not only be equal or better than the original, but also build upon what the original first started. Broken and left alone, Max wanders the wastelands of Australia. The opening credits state that the apocalypse has now covered the world since two sides went to war, resulting in an oil shortage that led to earth ruining violence on a massively epic scale. Here we go from any type of organized civilization to a world gripped in the jaws of insanity: wandering gangs murder and pillage, while the remaining “sane” people are forced to band together in desperate attempts to survive.
Road Warrior is more action packed, and also is faster paced than the first movie or even the third one. There is very little down time, and the action sequences are swift and hardcore. Staying remotely quiet for most of the movie, Max is a broken man forced by extreme circumstances to aid people he never thought he would help in the first place. The Shane effect takes place and through actions Max did not think he was capable of, he achieves his place as heroic adventurer. I like that this movie keeps the first one’s gritty style, and that the raw power of violence is still used to maximum effect. Interestingly enough according to sources detailing the making of this film this is the movie that George Miller wanted to make the first time around, but could not due to lack of money and other restraints. An increased budget was good for this movie, because the series deserved to have an even better look and style.
Finally there is Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, which is the only one in the series that has the look and feel of an 80s movie. Sure the second one was made in 1981, but it lacks the 80s style and look, which is to its benefit. Despite being the weakest part of the trilogy I rather enjoy Thunderdome. Unlike the other ones, its a bit more fun, having some oddly lighthearted moments and even featuring some cheesy yet entertaining moments. Besides without this film, there would be no completing of the arc for Max’s character, where he becomes more than just a man.
Through a group of kids he encounters in the waste, Max witnesses the telling of a story about a Captain Walker, a larger than life person. Really though the story fits Max: he was once merely a person, yet he is the now the embodiment of hope for an entire group in desperate need of a leader. Naturally he reluctantly grows into the position, and by the film’s conclusion he has once again aided others. Really only the second and third movies have anything in common, since the first movie establishes Max and results in him being the character he ends up becoming in the other two films instead of having him help anyone. In a way, Max discovering and holding onto redemption is the most important theme that runs through this movie, and its satisfyingly embodied in the last act.
Now I wonder how the forth movie will fit into the rest of the series, especially since Mel Gibson is too old and too toxic to be used in the main role. Perhaps Miller will build more on the mythology aspect of Max, or have him realizing he no longer fits in a world that has moved on. We will see.