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Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #280: Mad Max 2

Mad Max 2 (1981) a.k.a The Road Warrior, is one of the reasons why Mel Gibson was once of the biggest movies stars in the world. Who is Mad Max? He is the lone hero in a post-apocalyptic world, he is the last warrior in a war-torn Australia, and the deadliest man behind the wheel of a car. George Miller’s film is a true product of the 80s. It’s all practical effects and stuntmen as cars pummel and tear each other to pieces in a battle to get the last remnant of oil after a devastating war. Everyone is dressed like they have raided a leather clothing store and they stopped at a sporting goods store for armour. There was never a lot of optimism about the future back then in the 80s, but on the plus side it made for some pretty kick-ass movies.

I have seen the entire Mad Max franchise completely out of order. The third one I saw when it was playing on TV in Spanish back in the 90s when I was living in Peru (whose roads and drivers sadly reminded me of the movie sometimes). I got to the second one years later while taking summer courses at the University of British Columbia in 2009 after I saw it was on iTunes. This is why video stores are going out of business: you can be hundreds of kilometres away from your home and rent whatever classics you want online without having to worry about late fees or waiting in line. Plus this was the summer when the first Transformers sequel came out so I felt like watching a movie sequel that actually gets the job done. No school like the old school. 

Like most action movies, the story of Mad Max 2 is pretty straightforward. Following the events of the previous film, Max (Gibson) is drifting the Australian roads in search of food and petrol. Since Max’s family was murdered by a bike gang and he quit to force to hunt them down, law and order has collapsed in the wake of a global war caused by a fuel shortage. After surviving an encounter with another gang, Max runs into a drifter (Bruce Spence) who prefers to travel by air with a tiny gyrocopter. The Gyro Captain tells him of an oil refinery in the wasteland, which in the eyes of marauders is more precious than water.

Unfortunately the refinery and its inhabitants are under siege by a deadly gang. Their leader, The Humungus (Kjell Nilsson) is a beast of a man whose face is covered by a hockey mask, much like another 80s icon. He and his vicious gang of rapists and vandals offer the refinery settlers a deal: leave all the oil behind and they will get safe passage out of his territory. When a group of settlers tries to make a break for it, they are captured, tortured, raped, killed, and their bodies are used to decorate the gang’s cars. Bringing back a survivor, Max tries to make a deal of his own. In exchange for all the oil he can transport he will help the settlers by driving a tanker trailer containing all of their fuel, leading the marauders away while the settlers drive in the opposite direction.

This eventually leads to one of the most action-packed car chases ever shot. With Max behind the wheel of the tanker, Humungus’ gang give pursue him in their gas-spewing cars and bikes while the Gyro Captain follows from above. In the sun-drenched desert the pursuers fire bullets, arrows and chains at the tanker, while on top a few of the settlers try to hold them off with Molotov cocktails. Characters are blown up, burned, shot, and run over. When Max manages to shoot one of the marauders with a shotgun while still driving the tanker, a feral kid (Emil Minty) riding with Max laughs with glee.

This is clearly not the subtlest of movies. All of the evil marauders are dressed in black leather, while the good settlers and their benevolent leader Pappagallo (Michael Preston) are mostly dressed in white. But then again, if you are going to go see a movie called The Road Warrior don’t expect any Shakespeare. The Feral Kid does not even have any lines, although he does have a metal boomerang that can slice your fingers. This is Australia after all, even in a post-apocalyptic future somebody had to have a boomerang.

After the third entry in the franchise, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Gibson would go on to star in the Lethal Weapon franchise making him one of the biggest stars of the 90s. Then came the 2000s and his many, many breakdowns so who knows what’s next for Mad Mel? George Miller meanwhile branched out into family films with Babe and Happy Feet, but plans to drive back to the apocalypse with Mad Max: Fury Road in 2014. Tom Hardy had been wisely cast as Max, but good luck with topping that car chase.   


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