Now that I’ve seen Road Warrior, the film that is the hallmark of the Mad Max trilogy, I have a little better understanding of how George Miller arrived at Fury Road. It was a brilliant, exhilarating, wild ride that fully grasped what makes an immersive action film. But to get there we have to look back. In Mad Max (1979) Miller and his crew were simply feeling around, testing the waters, and getting acclimated to their apocalyptic world. It’s interesting, but not fully realized.
With Road Warrior there is still more exploring of the Mad Max character (Mel Gibson), however, more crucially, we get the type of action that propels the franchise from being another run-of-the-mill action saga. Do you think it would carry any clout in the U.S. if there was not something dynamic about it? It stems from Max, who, although a main character, seems content being in the background. He’s a man of few words, who only takes on the role of hero when necessary. He’s self-assured and confident when the need is there. Otherwise, he’s fine cruising around looking for gasoline through the wasteland with his faithful canine pal. That dog is great, by the way.
However, during one such excursion he crosses paths with a clan trying to fend off a band of marauders. Max initially begins as a prisoner only to become an ally that the locals are wary of, because, after all, he’s not trying to be their friend. But nevertheless, after helping defend their Australian Alamo, he ultimately decides to take on the task of guiding their shipment of fuel to safety. In one of the most memorable chase sequences (a predecessor to Fury Road), Mad Max guides his load with settlers guarding the tanker while the biker gang follows from behind. Their leader Humungus offered up a ceasefire only in an attempt to double cross, and he’s not looking to leave any survivors.
In the ensuing chaotic cross-country race, machinery gets totaled, lives get lost, and Mad Max takes a brutal beating. He gets help from the wolf child, who will end up growing up to be the leader of his people. Now he helps Max in the struggle to fend off Humungus and his psychotic crony Wez. As it turns out, it was all a ploy and the settlers continue their exodus with their precious fuel. But of course, Mad Max does not go with him and in the mind of the boy he becomes a sort of mythology. He’s not to be fully known, only talked about and spoken of like Greek heroes of old, who have long become more fiction than fact. The eponymous character of Mad Max is deliciously enigmatic, and it certainly doesn’t hurt having a few wonderful set pieces that will make most action fans lick their lips with delight. It’s sure to taste better than a tin of dog food, and dog food was fine dining for Max.