Mad Max (1979) is mostly buildup and little payoff. This film, on the other hand, has almost nothing but payoff to offer. As such, The Road Warrior turns out to be a marked improvement over the first installment.
The movie begins with a brief background of the post-apocalyptic society depicted in the two films. While the viewer doesn’t get a full explanation of what happened in the past, one understands how the world in which the series is set has become what it is.
The Road Warrior builds on the world from the first movie, expanding it in all directions. The setting and atmosphere are even more pronounced this time around, with director of photography Dean Semler’s accomplished work and Norma Moriceau’s memorably unique costumes playing a crucial role. Now there is true chaos and no proper rule of law. The hunt for gasoline stands as perhaps the most important driving force in the characters’ lives for the time being, and for good reason: gasoline equals survival and hope.
The action sequences are excellently staged and executed. Brutality and kinetic energy characterize these sequences, and they score very well in terms of how cool they look. The action feels authentic and gritty, thanks in no small part to co-writer (with Terry Hayes and Brian Hannant)/director George Miller’s reliance on daring stunts and impressive practical effects. Consequently, the stakes here are not only high but also viscerally real.
The Road Warrior is a progressive film. It features several strong female characters and also what I interpreted as a gay couple among the wasteland warriors. And these elements are organically integrated into the narrative rather than being included just for the sake of it.
Mel Gibson returns to the role of Max, finding a nice balance between desperation, survival instinct, selfishness, and reluctant heroism. As the Gyro Captain, Max’s eventual partner of sorts, Bruce Spence is an occasionally annoying but for the most part welcome addition to the cast. Max’s non-human, much more loyal companion, a dog, steals almost every scene in which the animal appears.
My level of engagement was significantly higher during The Road Warrior compared to when I watched the previous entry in the series. Fueling the movie, including its numerous thrilling moments of vehicular mayhem, is a poignant intimacy. The ending raises the question, where will Max go from here? I, for one, am curious to know the answer.
(Original title: Mad Max 2.)