“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
Main Force Patrol
The Main Force Patrol, or MFP, is a special police force tasked with propping up civil order in a politically destabilized Outback. When we meet them in Mad Max, they’re the only ones with the courage and firepower to stand up to Australia’s criminal biker gangs, but it’s clear that their job is not going according to plan. Max Rockatansky is ensconced as the MFP’s top man and certainly its best driver, but even he can’t prop up the poorly funded organization. Desperate to prevent Max from bolting for greener pastures, the MFP provides Max with a supercharged V8 Interceptor (not to mention an impeccably form-fitting leather uniform).
The uniform and the Interceptor are all that remains of the MFP when we meet Max again in The Road Warrior. This is significant, as civilization’s last hope for law and order seems to have died along with it. When Max and his car are captured and brought into the compound, the mechanic exclaims, “The last of the V8 Interceptors — a piece of history!” And at this point in the chronology, the MFP really is just a memory. It’s even less than that in Beyond Thunderdome, and the complete absence of a police presence goes a long way in explaining the barbaric practices now commonplace in the Outback’s desert towns. –Collin Brennan
No, not that Brian May. While Queen’s lead guitarist could have certainly left his mark on this franchise, the Brian May behind the music to Mad Max and Mad Max 2 was no less up to the task. The composer wastes no time establishing tension with the main title theme to Mad Max, juxtaposing heavy bass drums with violent spurts of brass. It’s a fitting complement to the post-apocalyptic visuals, and it sets the tone for a series that is no stranger to brutality.
May didn’t return for Beyond Thunderdome, a film whose musical legacy is defined by Tina Turner and her hit song “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)”. It was a marked change in tone from the previous two films, but then again, so was Beyond Thunderdome. Our hope is that Junkie XL brings the series back to a darker, more sinister place. From the snippets we’ve heard in the first trailer, it’s hard to tell whether he’ll be going for campy fun or something more sinister. With any luck, we’ll hear a bit of both. –Collin Brennan
Before Fury Road and its man-powered cogs and war machines, Beyond Thunderdome conjured up something far, far weirder. Master Blaster is essentially that scene in The Princess Bride where Cary Elwes sits atop Andre The Giant’s shoulders, only not funny at all. That’s because, in the Mad Max’s world, Master (Angelo Rossito) is a genius with dwarfism who runs Bartertown’s methane-based power plant (“Bullshit!” “No, pig shit.”) with an iron fist. At least, he runs it with the iron fist provided by Blaster (Paul Larsson), whose hulking frame belies a man with Down’s Syndrome who nevertheless was sent into battle in the Thunderdome with frequency to wreak havoc.
Ultimately, Max defeats Master Blaster with what’s essentially a dog whistle, and while Max shows mercy upon Blaster after discovering his condition, Blaster is ultimately executed, and Master is imprisoned before escaping on a stolen train. One of George Miller’s frequent preoccupations within the Mad Max universe is what would happen to the disabled and disadvantaged in a vicious, violent, post-apocalyptic society, and while Master Blaster is hardly the most eloquent illustration of this, it’s still another curious wrinkle in Miller’s wholly unique dystopia. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
There is actually a vacation that takes place in the Mad Max universe, if you can believe it. Max wants to retire, but his superior suggests he and his family take some time to themselves before making such a rash decision. While the world of Mad Max is set in the near future, it’s looking worse for the wear, but not all hope is lost. There is still the idea of familial love, and nowhere is it better represented than in the Rockatansky household.
During their vacation, the family car gets a flat tire. This changes the course of the entire franchise. Max waits with the car while his wife, Jenny, takes their son for ice cream nearby. The mechanic who helps Max is played by Australian (surprise) actor Nico Lathorius, who five years ago would not have been included in a Mad Max feature, let alone receive his own category. However, Lathorius received a co-writer credit on Fury Road alongside comic book artist Brendan McCarthy and director George Miller. He is truly the Feral Child to Miller’s Max. Wonder if he’s good with a boomerang? – Justin Gerber