Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior is a film I obsessed over as a kid. I discovered it at our local video rental store, a creased and faded VHS book showing Max standing alone on a desolate, desert highway, a gun in his hand and a dog by his feet. Despite the fact that it had the number two in its title, I had not realized it was a sequel. I had no idea it was part of a larger trilogy. For me, it was just a perfect little blast of mayhem, a journey that had neither a beginning nor an end. I thought it was masterpiece and my opinion hasn’t changed much over the years.
Released at the very end of 1981, Mad Max 2 was marketed merely as The Road Warrior in the United States. Warner Brothers, who handled the US distribution, was concerned that the original Mad Max was not well known enough and that billing the film as a sequel might hurt profits. Fortunately for them, the first Mad Max film is not required viewing in order to enjoy The Road Warrior. I’d imagine there is a whole generation of video-store renters who went a very long time never knowing there was a first Mad Max film.
The Road Warrior looks and moves like a western film. Mel Gibson’s Max is a gunslinger wandering the frontier. He finds himself working with a small settlement of folks who are under constant siege from a roaming gang of violent marauders lead by the sinister Lord Humungous. It’s fast and ends even faster, a story told in bullets, blades, blood, and dust. The Road Warrior is sparse both on dialogue and story, which works to its advantage. Instead, director and writer George Miller lets the setting and the visuals do all the talking. Like a good western, the character’s actions speak louder than any words.
Miller and his crew do a fantastic job of delivering a fully lived in and realized world. The characters, even those with a few scant minutes of screen time, all seem to have a story. There’s something unique about all of them, sense that you could spend a whole movie just exploring their history. Hell, you could watch this movie with the sound off and still completely understand the story and characters. The Road Warrior is a visually stunning movie, a brilliant snapshot of a violent and dark world that seems all at once unbelievable and entirely too real.
There are a ton of great, memorable moments in this movie, but the best has to be the final chase sequence. Driving a giant gas truck, Max leads the marauders on a high-speed chase across the desert highway. In a time before CGI, the daring effects of this scene are all the more spectacular. People hang from the truck, cars explode and flip through the desert, bodies spray blood and bones crunch as they are pulled between tires and asphalt; it’s an orgy of violent and destruction. Seriously, I could watch the last 20 minutes of Road Warrior on a continual loop and never get bored with it. It’s a thing of beauty that few films have even come close to.
The Mad Max films – at least the ones we have seen so far – are all spectacular. They are unique visions of a brutal, dusty, blood-soaked future. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior is the their high point, where the high-water mark of a fantastic franchise. From the look of things, Fury Road looks to carry on this tradition of high-quality death and destruction. If it’s half as good as Road Warrior, then we are in for a real treat. I’ll be there opening night for Fury Road, probably in a leather bikini with a hockey mask, proclaiming myself the Ayatollah of Rock and Roll-ah.