Mad Max opens with what would become one of the characteristic elements of the film series: an energetic car chase. Perhaps not surprisingly, the road-action sequences are the best moments in the movie. There is also a scene taking place in the woods that adds a little welcome suspense to the proceedings.
At its core, the story is one of revenge. It does, however, take a good while for the film to get to that point. After plenty of buildup interspersed with action, the climax of the movie is adequately intense but unexpectedly short in duration. Consequently, Mad Max doesn’t feel complete as a standalone film: it ends just as things start to get interesting.
Even so, the overarching problem with the movie concerns the narrative flow. Individual scenes are fine, but there isn’t much connective tissue between more than a few of them. Story developments occur quickly and in noticeably discrete steps rather than gradually in a smooth way.
Oh well, there are other aspects of Mad Max to enjoy. Mel Gibson—he looks so young here!—and Hugh Keays-Byrne are both solid as protagonist Max Rockatansky and chief antagonist Toecutter, respectively. Furthermore, the tone of the film is kind of depressing—in a good way—and the bleak ending surely leaves the viewer intrigued.
The Australian desert wasteland provides an original, appropriately hostile setting, which helps to effectively establish a sense of a not-too-distant, dystopian future society in a nice world-building effort by co-writer (with James McCausland)/director George Miller and his crew. And even though post-apocalyptic worlds are much more common in films and on television today compared to when the movie was released, Mad Max holds up quite well.
This is a low-budget production, and it shows. I can understand and have no problem with the film being considered a cult classic. To me, though, Mad Max is a fairly mediocre movie, albeit one that has some potential thanks to several cool ingredients.