The whole Mad Max concept came to a head with its 1981 sequel The Road Warrior. The Miller/Kennedy team returned with a bigger budget this time, delivering a follow up which honored its roots but could also stand alone as a separate film. Although Mad Max was a smash in Australia, it didn't export very well, even after the producers were forced to dub the cast with ludicrously overwrought American accents. Even American-born (and soon-to-be-ridiculously-famous) Mel Gibson came off sounding like a used car salesman!
Before we strap ourselves into our Interceptor and go off in search of the precious juice, here's the film's nitrous-fueled trailer:
The apocalyptic future presaged by the first film has come to pass and there's a genuine feeling of de-evolution in The Road Warrior. To help establish the second film as an original entry, we get a short narrative prologue informing us that global order has collapsed in the face of a chronic fuel shortage. To make matters worse "two mighty warrior tribes" have gone to war and life has now become a "whirlwind of looting and a firestorm of fear, in which men began to feed on men." The incredible thing is, the more you research the concept of peak oil, the more eerily prescient this all seems to be.
During this set up we see clips of an impossibly youthful-looking Gibson frolicking with his fictional wife Joanne Samuel, which probably had audiences in the Eighties scratching their heads since most people had no idea that The Road Warrior was a sequel. After killing the Toecutter's gang, Max wanders out into the wasteland and learns to live off the corpse of the old world. His only resources are his trusted Blue Heeler appropriately named "Dog", a barely-functional sawed-off shotgun and what remains of his precious V-8 Interceptor.
His unearthly skills behind the wheel serve him well as he confronts a gang of road scum over a crashed gas tanker. Victorious, he makes off with the precious cargo inside and soon encounters a similarly-abandoned gyro copter. Initially snared in a trap, Max craftily outwits the Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence) and prepares to do him in. The pilot barters successfully for his life when he tells Max that there's a facility nearby that's producing a limitless supply of petrol.
Intrigued, Max discovers a working oil refinery besieged by an army of marauding scumbags armed with weapons and deadly vehicles. This human detritus is led by the pistol-toting, goalie-masked, impossibly-ripped Lord Humongous, who's been trying in vain to get the settlers to surrender using a combination of threats, violence and sweet talking.
After retrieving one of the settlers mortally wounded by the gang, Max manages to weasel his way into the good graces of the refinery's leader Papagallo (Michael Preston). He strikes a deal to retrieve a rig which the settlers plan to use as bait while the civilians make a break for it. As the film continues to unspool we're treated to some increasingly spectacular automotive duels and watch as Max struggles to rise above the savagery of the world around him.
The Road Warrior does what all good sequels should do: it expands on the vision of the original. The story is considerably more focused, like a sci-fi twist on the "Man With No Name" westerns. The costumes are spectacular, launching a slew of copycat films and influencing about a million heavy metal videos. The vehicles are also appropriately bizarre and you really get the sense that these things have been cobbled together from a million different sources.
The breakneck action on display here is probably why I have such contempt for Michael Bay's films. There's not one frame of CGI here folks, just a shit-load of ballsy stunt work and motorized mangling is unrivaled. The final assault on the tanker is shot with a series of wide angles so it's easy to see that there were no cheats. Every kill, collision and desperate skirmish is planned out with vicious precision.
There's also a helluva lot more going on here besides vehicular anarchy. Whereas the first film is a straight-up revenge fantasy, The Road Warrior is a story of redemption. This is never more apparent then when Max encounters the animal-skin clad, metal boomerang-wielding Feral Kid (Emil Minty).
While thinking about his own lost son, Max gives the child a mangled music box. Not long after, Max catches the outback urchin literally following in his own footsteps. Disturbed by the prospects of getting emotionally attached to something else that might be taken away from him, Max throws the young stowaway's gear out of his car. Needless to say, the effect is pretty heart-wrenching, even for what's supposed to be a hard-boiled sci-fi flick.
The performances are all top-notch. Intense, evasive and self-assured, Gibson handily makes Max one of cinema's greatest anti-heroes. Bruce Spence's unique appearance and oddball mannerisms make his Gyro Captain a ridiculously memorable character. The villains in this one also make the "Toecutter" from the first film look like a member of One Direction.
Max's story did continue in Beyond Thunderdome but that film was marred somewhat by real tragedy when producer Byron Kennedy was killed while scouting for locations. Rumor has it that director George Miller lost his passion for the project and the final film seems to echo this somewhat.
Nevertheless, that doesn't diminish this tremendous film, which I have to put towards the top of my list of all-time favorites.