In 1979, George Miller made his directorial debut when he unleashed “Mad” Max Rockatansky upon the world. Set in a dystopian world full of violence, dwindling resources and famine there is no other film franchise like Mad Max. For the purpose of this article I would like to present my personal rankings of the four films. I know, I know, Mad Max: Fury Road doesn’t fall within the boundaries we usually set for our Far Back Friday articles but you’ll have to forgive me this time around.
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Road Warrior
Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome
Mad Max (1979)
When I first watched the original Mad Max film I didn’t have the same appreciation I do for it today. Though it ranks at number three on my list, this independent film sets the course for things to come. George Miller wanted to deliver a post-apocalyptic world that people could actually believe and he did so in glorious fashion.
Nearly forty years later the same fears still exist of where this Earth is headed and how/when the downfall of mankind will happen. Mad Max doesn’t have the “true” apocalyptic feeling that the rest of the films do but rather concentrates on what is happening as society slowly delves into madness. The violence is real as it can get and with experience as a doctor, Miller was able to take what he personally experienced in the ER and translate it to the big screen (not to mention raise the funds necessary to make the movie).
Finding the right actor for the role of Max was important to Miller and they finally made the decision on Mel Gibson. The intention was to get as much exposure for the movie as possible and picking an American opposed to an Australian actor made sense to the team. Gibson’s Max is a man of few words and emotions, as is Tom Hardy’s in Fury Road, Gibson was someone who could portray the role through his acting chops by hardly saying a word. It’s better that you watch the film and think of it as a masterpiece of kinetic film-making. It’s more about the dramatic backdrops and furious car chases that make these films so special.
After an encounter with Toecutter and his devious gang, Mad Max is born out of revenge for his family’s death. Though Max becomes a lone-wanderer at the end of the film, there are still parts of Max that are human and they become evident in each of his following adventures. Speaking of Toecutter, here’s a fun fact. Within the Mad Max franchise two actors have played two different roles, the first being Hugh Keays-Byrne, who also plays the main antagonist of Fury Road, Immortan Joe.
The Road Warrior (1981)
My personal favorite of the original trilogy, the title “The Road Warrior” as opposed to “Mad Max 2” was used for the US release of the film due to the first film not being very well known in the states. Miller also didn’t want people to have the “burden” of needing to watch the original in order to see his new film. What I like about The Road Warrior is that it advances the story to a point where the Earth’s resources are becoming very rare; which of course is one of the major causes of conflict in the film. Where the original film showed a world teetering on the edge of the end of society, The Road Warrior takes place post a major energy crisis, dwindling fuel sources, and a global nuclear war. This is something about the movie that sets the tone for the franchise as more of a “fantasy” than the real and grimy “real world” feeling that the first Mad Max movie gives you.
In The Road Warrior we are introduced to Bruce Spence as the Gyro Captain. This is the other example of an actor playing two roles in the franchise as Spence returns in Beyond Thunderdome, who oddly enough is a pilot himself. He may also be familiar to those of you who enjoyed the TV show Legend of the Seeker.
The colorful characters come out to play for the first time in the series. Unlike the first film, The Road Warrior shows off more of the eccentric side of humankind especially when it comes to the gang members. One of my favorites from the entire series is Lord Humungus who wears a hockey mask and some rather risque clothing. This is a prime example of how Miller truly embraced his vision of what the end and rebirth of the human race would be like. A time when the more animalistic side of our species came to the surface, allowing their more primal instincts to take over. Though the darkness isn’t without its light, and through all the grit and violence we are still given a message of hope and prosperity as Max joins with a settlement of Wastelanders to help them escape the onslaught of Lord Humungus and his horde.
Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
Two men enter. One man leaves. What can I say about this movie… I like it and I don’t. Probably the least favorite among most fans (including myself), Beyond Thunderdome takes many of the elements that we love about the Mad Max world and amplifies them to great levels but at the same time takes on a “Peter Pan” vibe that I can’t quite get past. The “light-heartedness” paired with the “Hollywood-ization” takes us away from the gritty and violent world that we were accustomed to from the prior two films. At the same time the sets, costumes, and final car chase deliver the Mad Max vibe that we all had come to love.
The movie starts off well after the events of The Road Warrior and Max has been wandering the Wasteland for some time now. Through some unfortunate events involving the return of Bruce Spence, Max is forced to head to the nearest settlement to try and salvage his missing goods. Enter Bartertown and the other star of this movie, Tina Turner. Now this is probably one of the most elaborate sets of the original trilogy with its massive population and “civilized” way of living, thanks of course to their self-sustained energy derived from pigs. We soon learn that politics still play a big part even in a dystopian world and Max is dragged into them once he enters town. From there things either go up or downhill, depending on the way you look at the film.
Could Beyond Thunderdome have been a darker movie? Of course. Tina Turner’s Aunty Entity could have existed in either interpretation and I wonder what her character would have been like if she took more of a walk on the darker side of things. I always found it kind of weird how things are left at the end of the film after the climactic chase. The battle in the Thunderdome against Master Blaster is great and the idea of this kind of arena harkens back to the Gladiator fights of ancient Rome. The Thunderdome is even adapted into the 2015 video game, unfortunately spoiled for me due to writing this article but still something I am really looking forward to experiencing!
In the end, at least we will always have this to remind us of Thunderdome:, ahhhh the 80’s.
Fury Road and Beyond..
After the success of Mad Max: Fury Road we will most likely see a follow up. It is important to realize that the new era of Mad Max films are a reboot of the classics. Would it have been cool to see Gibson reprise his role as an older Max? I think so, but unfortunately this idea was scrapped after his public breakdown. Originally intended for release around the turn of the century, Mad Max 4 entered “development hell” due to MANY different reasons. Finally in 2009 the project was back on track and Fury Road was released in 2015. It is the best of the franchise and a breath of fresh air when it comes to modern day film-making. The usage of practical effects makes the movie for me and it’s truly a work of art. Tom Hardy‘s portrayal of Max is spot on and the addition of Charlize Theron‘s Furiosa make for the perfect cast. If you ever get your hands on the Blu-ray do yourself a favor and watch the special features you will only be more amazed at the process of making this movie. We can only hope that Miller comes through with his promise of a sequel (and possible trilogy), which he has given the working title of “Mad Max: The Wasteland”.
The new world of this Mad Max grew in a couple different formats. DC Comics published a prequel series under their Vertigo imprint with each issue giving characters like Furiosa, Immortan Joe, Nux and Max more of a backstory. You can buy the collected trade here.
WB Games teamed up with Avalanche Studios to deliver a Mad Max experience like no other, allowing you to take control of the Road Warrior in video game form. I am currently playing the game and find it to be amazing. The best description I can give you is that the game is a mix of Grand Theft Auto, the Batman Arkham Series and Fallout. To my pleasant surprise it offers a great amount of depth with its game-play and customization of Max and his car. The game itself is loosely tied to Fury Road but was never intended to be directly tied into the movie. Instead WB Games opted to give players a chance to become their own depiction of the character. It does an amazing job at recreating many of the characters, vehicles and more not only from Fury Road but also some elements from the OT. Someday I will get around to properly reviewing it once I am done conquering the Wasteland.
Mad Max is easily one of my favorite franchises of all time as I am a big fan of seeing what could happen at the end of the known world. Though no one should ever wish for that day to come it is fun to play around in that sandbox. If you haven’t had the pleasure of watching these glorious films do yourself a favor and get on that. I’ll be over here waiting for the next sequel to hit theaters and trying to get 100% completion in the video game. See you in Valhalla!