Mad Max 2: Road Warrior

Year: 1981
Director: George Miller
Starring: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Vernon Wells
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

After watching the first ‘Mad Max’ film from the original trilogy, I was feeling pretty positive about the sequel. I now know Max Rockatansky a little better, he’s got a back-story and a trauma, so this time around I’m expecting a more gritty and dark character. The first film was adequately action-packed and entertaining, but this second installment needed to be much more than that to persuade me of its value as a cult classic. Just by looking at the DVD case, I could tell this was going to be a very different film to the first; a title like ‘Road Warrior’ is exciting enough, but promise me a post-apocalyptic world, and I’m sold.

Years after the first film, Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) is now known simply as ‘The Road Warrior’, an enigmatic, mysterious loner who trawls the Australian outback in the search of gasoline. In a land devastated by the effects of nuclear conflict, gasoline is now in short supply and dangerously high demand. When Max meets an oddball inventor (Bruce Spence) – an unusual man even by the standards of characters in this world – he is led to a community of survivors who are guarding their haul of gasoline from the threat of a brutal motorcycle gang. Max soon finds himself stuck in the middle of the hostile battleground and negotiates an advantageous contract for himself. All he has to do to earn a supply of gasoline to continue his journey, is help the community escape The Humungus and his tribe of psychotic bandits, easy!

Once again, the film doesn’t really allow for support characters to shine; this is Max’s story and everyone knows it. Mel Gibson benefits from his character’s tragedy and new found depth, to produce a performance which is far more dark and disturbing than in the previous film. Long gone is the cheesy Max (for the most part), replaced by a dangerous, more dimensional character who completely runs the show. Bruce Spence delivers an interesting and rather believable performance as the desperate, deranged inventor. Not only does he look the part but he adds a quirkiness and peculiarity to the character, putting him right at home in the mad atmosphere of the film. From the array of antagonists in the film, by far the standout act is Vernon Wells, who plays the rabid, volatile biker Wez. Similarly to the character of Toecutter from the first film, Wells portrays a vicious and ruthless villain with an unerring and terrifying accuracy.

‘The Road Warrior’ opens with the same action-packed intensity as its predecessor, which denies us any dialogue for the first ten minutes. The whole setting of this second film allows for a much more interesting and exciting story, against the backdrop of a bizarre, dystopian world. You could argue that the use of biker bad guys is a little repetitive, but this gang are head and shoulders above their counterparts from the first film, in terms of brutality and malevolence. Director George Miller, and writer Terry Hayes, have put together a very original plot concept with an other-worldly feel. Yet the notion of oil wars and territorial conflict carry unavoidable connotations and resonance with our own current global climate, a very clever juxtaposition.

This is a sequel which accomplishes a rather difficult task; to improve on a successful first film is no mean feat. ‘Road Warrior’ is exceptionally more brutal and gory, besting ‘Mad Max’ on the violence, crashes and explosions which made that film so appealing. Everything that was wrong with the first film is rectified with this follow up, the characters are darker and more interesting, the story has much more substance and the environment it is all framed within is so unusual and exciting. Now I can really understand the cult status ‘Mad Max’ carries, this film is exactly what people want; hard-hitting action, blowing stuff up and killing each other, fast cars and raw, unadulterated entertainment.

Jakob’s rating: 7.4 out of 10
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