Wednesday, August 17, 2016

MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR (1981) - *****

Rated R
Running time: 94 min.
Release date: December 24, 1981 (Australia) / May 21, 1982 (USA)

Mad Max 2 (aka The Road Warrior) is director George Miller's sequel to 1979's Mad Max, which occurs in a future world where violent chaos reigns and gasoline is now a precious commodity that humans kill each other over. Whereas the first film still held on to some semblance of civilization, Mad Max 2 sees the world (at least this portion of it anyway) plunged into desolation where the remnants of humanity attempt to survive amid savage brutality. Miller's post-apocalyptic vision and his skillful filmmaking easily make this one of the greatest action films of all time, but it also contains within one of the most artfully crafted, tightly edited action set pieces in the last third of the film.

Mel Gibson plays Max, the same character from the first film. He is a former member of the Main Force Patrol, but now roams the desolate landscape in his supercharged V-8 Pursuit Special (the same vehicle from the first film) as he survives on scavenging supplies. He is accompanied by a dog, aptly named "Dog", who proves to be both a faithful and useful companion. Max is being chased down the long highway by gang members, led by Wez (Vernon Wells). Wez looks like a cross between a punk rocker and a member of Hell's Angels, always accompanied by a young blond-haired lad. Max manages to evade the gang in an expert and violent manner, as Wez retreats. Max comes upon a semi-truck and collects what he can, including a small amount of fuel. Later on, he comes upon a small gyro-copter but is ambushed by its captain (Bruce Spence). With the help of Dog, Max overpowers the Gyro Captain, who guides Max to a makeshift oil refinery in exchange for his life. 

When they happen upon the site of the compound, they find that it is surrounded by a large gang who ride around on motorcycles and various other vehicles that look like bits and pieces of other vehicles strung together. The gang is led by the muscular and possibly grotesque Lord Humungus (Kjell Nilsson), a hockey mask-wearing man who comes across as both menacing and articulate in speech. He tries to convince the compound's defenders to give up their position in exchange for safe passage. Max and the Gyro Captain watch the proceedings from a nearby hilltop, as the gang chases down a few of the defenders who attempt to escape, then brutally attack and rape their victims. Even in these chaotic times, scenes like this draw a shocked response from the Gyro Captain as he watches it unfold. Humanity has not completely left some of us. After the gang have left, Max saves the lone survivor of the attack, bargains with him for some gasoline, then returns him to the compound. However, the man dies and the defenders, led by Pappagallo (Michael Preston), renege on any deal Max may have struck. The gang return with more survivors of their attack, and give the defenders one day to accept their offer of safe passage in return for relinquishing the compound. 

One of the tribe inside the compound is the Feral Kid (Emil Minty), who has no lines of dialogue and grunts his way through the film, but does a great job of conveying happiness or concern with facial expressions. He is a slight pest to Max, but eventually Max becomes a protector of sorts to the kid. Max lets the tribe know about the semi he found earlier in the film, and states that he can bring this rig to them in order to haul off their huge tanker of gasoline, in return for all the gasoline he can carry and other supplies. They agree to his terms, and Max comes through in a thrilling chase scene back to the compound. The tribe are impressed with Max and want him to drive the rig with the tanker to the coast and to safety. Max has no interest in becoming a part of the family, and just wants to fulfill his contract and leave. As he departs, the gang catch up with him, running him off the road and nearly killing him. The Gyro Captain flies in and returns him to the compound, where Max recovers and promptly states that he will not drive the truck for them.

What follows is one of, if not the best, chase scenes in any action film from any era. George Miller has expertly crafted and edited a scene that is logical and easy to follow while at the same time contains so much action and chaos. The stunt work is amazing as gang members jump from vehicle to vehicle, climbing on top of the tanker, and hanging on to the hood of a speeding truck. Mad Max 2 comes across as a futuristic western, and Max driving the semi could also have been Clint Eastwood speeding through the desert on a wagon besieged by attacking Indians. This scene gives the chase in Bullitt a run for its money. 

With barely any dialogue and a bare-bones plot, George Miller has created a vast, dangerous setting using wide-camera shots of the desert, costume design and acts of brutality. This is a fast-paced and aggressive film that doesn't slow-boil to the awesome finale more than it starts a small fire that quickly gets out of control. Except Miller is in control the whole time, and that is the biggest feat accomplished with this action masterpiece.

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