“But most of all we ‘members the man who finded us – him that came a-salvage. And we lights the city, not just for him, but for all of him that are still out there. ‘Cause we knows there’ll come a night when they sees the distant light, and they’ll be comin’ home.”
For decades these appeared to be the final words of the Mad Max franchise, spoken by Nix to a group of survivors about the man who helped them escape the clutches of the wicked Aunty Entity. Thirty years later, he saw their light and is coming home to a local movie theater near you. He will look different, and he will carry with him a different story, but like many stories, his has become a thing of legend.
Mad Max: Fury Road hits theaters this weekend, and what better way to celebrate the mayhem, the mystery, and the motors than by breaking down the franchise with a single letter: “M”. M is for the “Mad,” and now our feature can begin…
When we meet Max Rockatansky in Mad Max, he is a loving husband and doting father of a young son and as far from “mad” as you can get. After a fellow police officer and good friend is brutally attacked, Max is about to hang it up when tragedy hits home, courtesy of the disturbing Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and company. Amidst a backdrop on the brink of the apocalypse, Max takes revenge the only way he knows how: fast. Very fast.
Years go by. The world has gone and destroyed itself. Max travels the wastelands with his dog, Dog, looking for fuel wherever and whenever he can get it. Where is he going? Is he forever on a journey leading him away from his past? He says nothing. After a string of events early on in The Road Warrior (better known as Mad Max 2 everywhere but the US), he becomes tangled up in the lives of a small village that is being terrorized by a group of crazy bandits, led by The Humungus and mohawked Wez. They must escape and realize they need Max to help them.
Even more time goes by. Maybe decades. Max finds himself in Bartertown, run by Aunty Entity (Tina Turner, appropriately over-the-top). Within its gates is Thunderdome: a giant cage filled with various weapons where its gladiators swing from one end to the next, trying to kill one another. Max inevitably finds himself fighting in the Thunderdome and, after winning, helps a band of children escape to “Tomorrow-morrow Land” before leaving to travel on his own once more. The common thread all three movies share is that while Max will save you, don’t expect him to stick around.
In Fury Road, Max is no longer portrayed by Mel Gibson, but Tom Hardy appears ready to take on the mantle of the Road Warrior. Will we be convinced? –Justin Gerber
George Miller has to have one of the oddest filmographies of any still-working director. He’s an Oscar winner, for Happy Feet (he directed both). He helmed The Witches of Eastwick, the nightmarishly-inappropriate-for-its-target-audience Babe: Pig in the City, and even a chapter in the Twilight Zone film revival in 1983.
But his claim to fame has always been Mad Max and its succeeding installments. They’re action films of substantial vision, less a franchise in the modern-day sense than a progression of standalone stories, tied together more or less only by their leading man and the general aesthetic choices that examine different parts of a collapsed society. The original film is more speculative sci-fi than anything, a cop-out-for-revenge tale set in a world that eerily resembles our own. The Road Warrior plunges straight into the endless deserts and violence that have come to be associated with the series, and Beyond Thunderdome considers what society would look like as it started to rebuild.
Fury Road revisits this with an even scarier question: once the world’s rebuilt, who will run it? Because whoever that’d be, they’d have to be the sort of person who could not only survive in this world, but want to lead it. At the heart of all this is Miller, now 70 and directing like a man decades his junior, whose steadfast interest in the bygone arts of daredevil stuntwork and applied special effects feels less like affectation than a reminder of how visceral, how tangible action movies used to be before CGI shaved (and then dramatically inflated) budgets the world over. Miller’s a visionary in the truest sense, because he’s still pushing those boundaries, never content to rest on his laurels in any one genre of film for any length of time. And for a filmmaker who’s turned out no shortage of hits over the years, Miller’s still directing like he has so much left to prove. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer