by Mel Valentin
Widely acknowledged as among the best pure action films ever put on film, George Miller's post-apocalyptic action/western, "The Road Warrior" (a/k/a "Mad Max 2") deserves its reputation among genre fans and film critics with almost no qualification. From the opening scene until the penultimate scene (the last, wraparound scene thankfully gives the audience a breather), "The Road Warrior" is pure spectacle, emphasizing visuals and action over dialogue and character development (characters are almost wholly defined by what they do, rather than what they say, or even who they are, since most characters aren’t even identified by name). The other kind of action in "The Road Warrior" comes primarily through its elaborately choreographed, seemingly dangerous car chases on dirt roads or empty highways, followed by spectacular, life-threatening car crashes, and outrageous stunt work done without the benefit of wires or special effects (often in the same scene or shot). "The Road Warrior" also established actor Mel Gibson as an international star (a good or bad thing, depending on your perspective).In the first film of the trilogy, Mad Max, the titular character (Mel Gibson in a career-making role) loses everything, including his family, to a motorcycle gang that takes advantage of the collapse of the Australian social order (due presumably to a widespread fuel shortage). Losing all ties to the community, Max goes on a vendetta to exact revenge for his family's murders. He also becomes an isolated, individualistic loner, interested only in survival. In The Road Warrior, the collapse of the social order is complete, with roving gangs of thieves and cutthroats pillaging, looting, and otherwise doing harm to the remaining pockets of civilization. In other words, the Hobbesian "war of all against all" has become the norm. One small community, however, controls an oil refinery in the Australian wastelands (how they got there, how they banded together, is never explained). The local pillagers/leather fetishists, led by the hockey-mask wearing, leather underwear adorned, hypertrophied Lord Humungus (Kjell Nilsson, channeling his inner Arnold Schwarzenegger), have nothing but the worse intentions when it comes to the community, despite Lord Humungus’ protestations to the contrary. They want unrestricted access to the oil refinery (and the community's women, if only temporarily). And yes, the refinery community wears white (including white football pads) and the gang wears black (football pads again, plus black leather and dyed Mohawk haircuts).
"The rare sequel better than improves on the original."
Enter Max, who, spying an opportunity to get into the good graces of the community, saves a man from the clutches of Lord Humungus and his men. Max just wants to trade the man's life for the precious black oil that will keep his car running. Alas, the first reversal sets in: the man dies, leaving Max stranded and, soon enough, a prisoner of a community wary of his presence among them. One young boy, listed only as the Feral Kid (Emil Minty), begins to look to Max as a surrogate father. The Feral Kid can defend himself, however (he's quite adept at handling a boomerang). Max eventually offers to help the community make a dash for freedom, first offering to steal a tractor trailer rig and bring it into the compound and later, after another reversal, to drive the rig, now attached to an oil tanker, to freedom some two thousand miles away. Of course, driving the tanker means Lord Humungus and his men will do everything to stop Max and take the tanker for themselves. What follows is an extended, hyperkinetic chase sequence through the Australian outback, with Max forced to use his native ingenuity, physical prowess (and this despite multiple wounds suffered earlier in the film), and survival skills to fend off a convoy of motorcycles and souped-up, modified four-wheelers (Lord Humungus drives a car equipped with nitrous oxide tanks, which give his car a tremendous boost in acceleration and speed when activated).
The Road Warrior, while containing its share of plot holes (e.g., the unanswered questions about how the community first found themselves at the refinery and whether they self-organized or arrived intact from a different location, the gang’s apparent overuse of their own, presumably, meager fuel supplies by constantly circling the refinery, how the community feeds itself in a desert apparently bereft of water or vegetation), and, of course, the minimalist approach to character development, which puts a premium on action rather than dialogue, but it also retains a high entertainment value, due its action scenes and the art/production design, that emphasizes the tribal nature of the warring groups (and how they’d likely define themselves through clothing, color, and face and eye makeup). Few films deserve to be called “seminal,” but The Road Warrior certainly does, given that it single-handedly established an entire sub-genre (widely imitated but never surpassed or even matched).That’s not to suggest that "The Road Warrior" is completely original. In some ways, it’s obviously a product of its times, with director George Miller borrowing vertical wipes from George Lucas’ "Star Wars: A New Hope," and shooting in a barren desert (aided by wide-angle lens). The music score too also betrays a "Star Wars" influence, or rather an at-times close similarity to John Williams’ "Star Wars" score. Still, these are all minor quibbles or tangents that, overall, have little impact or effect on whether "The Road Warrior" remains watchable almost twenty years after its release (it does, without question).
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originally posted: 09/26/05 16:42:49