This review is a part of our ongoing Mad Max retrospective series. There will be a review of each Mad Max film published every other week. You can read our review of Mad Max (1979) here.
There may be some minor spoilers throughout, so I recommend watching the film before reading this review.
Well, here it is. Apologies for the delay in getting this up, but hopefully now I can stick to the schedule and get a Mad Max review published every other week (so there’s a bit of flexibility in the weeks between MM reviews).
After being blown away by the fantastic action of George Miller’s 1979 original Mad Max, I was so excited for the 1981 follow-up, The Road Warrior. Box office figures are scarce, but it’s safe to say that the budget was definitely upped for this sequel, because the action’s bigger, better, and even more entertaining than its predecessor.
Dubbed The Road Warrior in American territories, this entry into the series picks back up with Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) after the events of the previous film. Now alone and scouring the Wasteland for a brighter future, Max stumbles upon a petrol-laden outpost being harassed by a gang led by Lord Humungus (Kjell Nilsson). With his loyal dog at his side, it is up to Max to protect the vulnerable community and uphold justice in the bitter wasteland.
As I’m sure you’d expect, the absolute highlight of The Road Warrior is its action scenes. The stuntwork is absolutely incredible, and you can really tell that thanks to the success of the first Mad Max film, director George Miller can finally make the film he wanted to. This world is far different from that of the first: ice-cream shops have been replaced by outposts armed to the teeth with weapons. This is the Mad Max I was expecting, full of high-octane action and wondrous stunts. In some ways, the film feels like a dance: the action scenes are stunningly shot and expertly choreographed, and work in a way that feels thoroughly engrossing and terrifying at some of the film’s crescendos.
Also brilliant is the film’s plot: it’s very self-aware in that it knows its sole purpose is to get from action scene to action scene, but it’s executed in a way that it doesn’t necessarily feel like it is cartilage between the film’s bones. I loved the way it took elements from the first film and built on them, even calling (quite subtly) back to plot points from the first entry, which was great for those who are looking for a bit of story with their action film. The plot works in symbiosis with the world design fantastically, for example, we know that in this world supplies are scarce, so when a twist like the tanker being full of sand instead of gas is revealed, it makes the performances all the more convincing and reinforces the harshness of the landscape. There are a number of little things that tie the plot up so neatly, but leaving enough room for further entries in the franchise, which makes The Road Warrior a satisfying and engaging watch from start to finish.
Performances and characterisation in the film are lovely as well. Mel Gibson is spellbinding as Max, really using the events of the first film to twist and somewhat contort Max’s psyche so we get a different vibe off him: the Max here is a little unhinged, unpredictable, but nonetheless likeable and somewhat endearing. Michael Preston’s portrayal of Papallago, the leader of the small community, is pretty great as well, and he really packs a punch in some of the film’s more emotional scenes. Other than that, performances are on the whole sold, as usual, not spoiling the film for me. Obviously, some of the performances are a tad over-the-top, but this doesn’t mar the film at all because it’s certainly what you should expecting going in to this campy affair.
Perhaps the most remarkable and admirable element of The Road Warrior is what’s going on behind the scenes. As I’ve said many a time before, George Miller is a brilliant director, but this has to be his best ever (not including MM:FR because I haven’t seen it). The action scenes are shot stunningly: we always see the best of the action, but still have the immersive, edge-of-seat impression like we are in the midst of the magnificent skirmishes. The score is also pretty great, and ramps up the tension, complimenting not just the action scenes but the quieter, plot-driven moments as well. I suppose that, in an age of cinema where the action genre is almost entirely comprised of CGI, the biggest compliment I can give to Mad Max: The Road Warrior is that, even for only 90 minutes or so, it made me entirely forget that CGI was a concept, thanks to the absolutely wondrous action we see. That said, I did have a few issues. I felt that some of the establishing shots, particularly towards the beginning, were very dodgy, and that the lighting in some moments really hindered my viewing experience. Other than that, though, the technological side of The Road Warrior is near-perfect.
In conclusion, it’s pretty hard to find enough superlatives to describe Mad Max: The Road Warrior – it’s got a solid plot, great performances, a fantastically interesting world – but it’s all about the action here. It improves on one of my favourite films of all time, and truly is one of the staples of modern cinema. It’s a gamechanger, and also a rollocking good time.
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