“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
Modes of Transportation
Ah, the cars. The universe that Max Rockatansky inhabits is as much known for its crudely fashioned death machines as it is Mel Gibson, and it’s remarkable considering that the cars themselves were fashioned piecemeal out of a number of different things. For instant, Max’s famous Pursuit Special is a 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT, modified with multiple spoilers and a number of other things that put it within the Concorde style.
Much like in the film’s desert wasteland, though, a number of the other cars were modified or slapped together. It’s fitting for a film in which transportation is survival and stillness is death. Buses and oil rigs become convoys to a better (or at least less brutal) world, and anything that can still be modified to move at all is a key asset. Motorcycles, gyrocopters, and the last school bus on Earth are all precious items on par with the gasoline (“guzzoline”) that turns so many murderous.
And at the center of it all (at least until Beyond Thunderdome) is the Pursuit Special, Max’s death machine, that roams the desert in an endless search for a peace that isn’t Max’s to have. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
It’s probably for the best that Mel Gibson is not reprising his role as Max in Fury Road. The actor’s well-publicized meltdown in the mid-2000s involved a drunk-driving arrest, some domestic ugliness, and a smattering of anti-Semitic comments for good measure. Can anybody blame George Miller for steering his vehicle clear of that dust storm?
It’s a shame that real-life Mel went down such an awful rabbit hole, and it’s likely to complicate his legacy even if he remains on his best behavior from now on. This is a problem, because action-movie Mel is a total, unrepentant badass. Sure, Mad Max benefits from killer cars and a post-apocalyptic setting that seems increasingly probable as time goes on, but Gibson is its most lethal weapon, so to speak. Few actors have so thoroughly embodied the strong, silent type, and it’s done here with a real sense of purpose.
Max’s exterior may be rugged, but this ruggedness is never an end in itself. Gibson’s subtle performance shows and hides Max’s internal pain in small, alternating doses. Seriously, go back and watch The Road Warrior. The film has some cheesy dialogue and a few long-winded monologues, but none of it belongs to Max, who prefers to express himself in quieter ways and is all the better for it.
It remains to be seen how Tom Hardy will fill Gibson’s shoes, but all signs look promising so far. With that said, Gibson deserves credit as the real cornerstone of this franchise, and he at least deserved a cameo in Fury Road. Hardy may one day be seen as the rightful heir to the Max throne, but one thing’s for sure: he’ll never look better than a young Mel in leather. –Collin Brennan