With the release of Mad Max: FuryRoad it seems only natural that people will start to look back on Max’s place within cinema history. George Miller’s 1979 film not only introduced the world to fledgling actor Mel Gibson but also helped to define the action genre as we know it to this day. As a former emergency room doctor, Miller had a personal experience of the type of injuries he would go on to depict and saw them as the natural consequences of the type of mentality that would have people turn to violence in the face of a fuel shortage. Mad Max is an important film for plenty of reasons but it has survived for the last 35 years because it’s also a fucking great one. Whilst it never quite had the same impact of it follow-up film The Road Warrior or the final film in the trilogy, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, it it always worth revisiting the cult classic.
You may have noticed but dystopian is in these days: with the recent onslaught of YA adaptations of books like The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, or Insurgent, dystopia has apparently become something to strive for. In the ultimate hipster sense, Mad Maxwas helping define this film genre way before it was the cool thing to do. Set in Australia in the not too distant future, we are introduced to a society dominated by violence, anarchy and chaos. Biker gangs rule the roads and are only challenged by the Main Force Patrol (MFP), the leather-clad law enforcers of the day.
Their top member is our titular hero, Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), who is a skilled driver and lover of the chase. Already feeling the lines blurring between morality and immorality, Max is keen to get out of the game and spend time with his family. That is until Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his gang roll into town. With his friends and loved ones in danger, Max has to decide which side of the line he belongs on.
Mad Maxwas an odd film even by 1979 standards: in an attempt to make the film more accessible to international audiences by badly overdubbing the thick Aussie accents American ones. It’s fucking weird and just awful. It also helped propel the fresh-faced, pre-prejudiced Mel Gibson to stardom after Miller and producer Bryan Kennedy decided to cast unknown actors in all roles. Although, Mac Maxdidn’t find great success upon release and it wasn’t until the sequel that Gibson found his first American hit.
The film sets itself, and the franchise, up pretty nicely by avoiding any nasty exposition and getting straight into the nitty-gritty of the car-chase that would become Miller’s trademark. The future is bleak here and violence has taken over. It is a film about road rage and there is plenty of energy behind the action scenes. Even with his limited budget and lack of experience, Miller shows that he’s a director knows what he’s doing. The stunts are still on-point thanks mostly to the fact that they are real. Rather than making things less exciting, the shoestring budget as only made the film greater.
When you look at it in 2015, Mad Max perhaps does look simple and clumsy but there can be no denying that the passion and energy are enough to keep you invested. There are some frankly amazing moments during this film: there is a certain amount of weird, dark humour, some quieter emotional moments and plenty of action to keep any film fan happy. It also looks bloody great: cinematographer David Eggby used the Australian landscape to perfectly capture the vast and arid landscape of the future.
Really, Mad Max is all about the visuals because there’s not much else too it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great film but there’s no denying that it’s a slow burner. It’s the least memorable of the trilogy because, in all respects, it is an origin movie. This is the story of how Max became Mad. The dialogue is hardly the greatest and mostly falls back on awful clichés. The characters are mostly undefined and forgettable and, even the main ones, are given no real depth. Max himself is hardly explored and you don’t really get any sense of him as a character.
Until the final act of the film when the narrative ramps up a gear and the revenge plot is born. Max suffers a great loss and cuts all ties with the MFP, choosing to go after Toecutter alone. This is where Miller steps things up a gear and shows great promise for the future. Max isn’t the great anti-hero we will eventually know him to be. Mad Max, though great in its own way, is an undeniably bleak film. Once Max’ has found his revenge (and I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that) there is no real sense of catharsis. This isn’t a world that has any real answers but just creates new problems. Mad Maxgave birth to a major franchise that has stepped up a new gear with the release of Fury Roadbut don’t expect it’s opening gambit to leave you with warm, fuzzy feelings. Just one epic ride.