Mad Max 2: Road Warrior

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

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Mad Max 2 movie poster
Directed by George Miller
Produced by Byron Kennedy
Written by Terry Hayes
George Miller
Brian Hannant
Starring Mel Gibson
Michael Preston
Bruce Spence
Vernon Wells
Kjell Nilsson
Virginia Hey
Emil Minty
Music by Brian May
Cinematography Dean Semler
Editing by David Stiven
Michael Balson
Tim Wellburn
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) December 24, 1981
Running time 91 min.
Country Australia
Language English
Budget AUD $4,000,000 (estimated)
Preceded by Mad Max
Followed by Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

Mad Max 2 (also known as The Road Warrior in the U.S.) is a 1981 post-apocalyptic science fiction action film. Directed by Australian doctor-turned-director George Miller, this sequel to Miller’s 1979 film Mad Max, Mad Max 2 was a worldwide box office hit that launched the lead actor Mel Gibson‘s career. The film’s tale of a community of settlers that have to defend themselves from a roving band of marauders is an archetypal “Western” frontier movie motif, as is Max’s role as a hardened man who rediscovers his humanity when he decides to help the settlers.[1]

Noteworthy elements of the film include cinematographer Dean Semler‘s widescreen photography of Australia’s vast desert landscapes; the sparing use of dialogue throughout the film, which is almost non-existent during the opening and closing scenes; costume designer Norma Moriceau‘s punk mohawked, leather bondage gear-clad bikers; and its fast-paced, tightly-edited, and violent battle and chase scenes.

The film’s comic-book-like post-apocalyptic/punk style popularized the post-apocalyptic genre in film and fiction writing. The film eventually became a cult classic, with fan clubs and “road warrior”-themed activities still occurring in the 2000s. The film was followed by Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome in 1985.

  • Tagline: Just one man can make a difference.

Content

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Plot summary

A brief prologue covers the events preceding the original Mad Max (no backstory was offered in that movie). After uprisings and an extended war due to energy shortages destabilized the country, marauding biker gangs began to terrorize the townspeople in the Australian desert. The crumbling remants of the government created a tiny, underfunded group of special highway patrol officers to try and restore order to the outback. In contrast, in Mad Max 2, there is a much more pronounced breakdown of civilization. In the prologue, a narrator tells us that the world has “crumbled and…the cities have exploded” in a “whirlwind of looting and a firestorm of fear, in which ‘men began to feed on men'”.

Max Rockatansky, the former police officer who sought vengeance against the gang that killed his family in the first film, has now become “a burnt out, desolate” shell of a man. Clad in his dirty and torn leather police uniform, Max roves the desert in his scarred, black, supercharged V-8 Pursuit Special, scavenging for food and especially gasoline, which has become a precious commodity. He also has a pet dog and a rare functioning firearm-a sawn-off shotgun–but ammunition is scarce.

The film begins as Max clashes with some straggling marauders, led by biker warrior Wez (Vernon Wells). After driving off the gang members, Max collects the gasoline from one of their wrecked vehicles and continues on. As Max continues to comb the desert wastelands, he comes upon an seemingly abandoned autogyro and investigates. The autogyro’s pilot (actor Bruce Spence) has set a trap with a poisonous snake, but Max and his dog outwit and overpower him. To stay alive, the pilot tells Max about a small working oil refinery out in the wasteland.

“Mad” Max is “a burnt out, desolate” loner who roams the wasteland of the post-apocalypse Australian outback, scavenging wrecked vehicles for petrol and ammunition.

Encamped on a cliff overlooking the oil refinery, Max watches as a gang of marauders in a motley collection of cars and motorbikes besiege the compound. They are led by a grim and charismatic masked warrior called “Lord Humungous” (Kjell Nilsson), a large, muscular man with a hockey mask over his disfigured face who commands a vicious mob of mohawked degenerates. Although he leads a rag-tag band of biker-berserkers, Humungous’ speeches to the settlers exhorting them to surrender are articulate and convincing, he uses his eloquent speeches as psychological warfare and some of the settlers fall for it.

When four settlers’ vehicles roar out of the refinery, they are chased down by the marauders and the people are raped, robbed and murdered. After the Gyro Captain and Max see the brutal treatment, Max goes down to the wrecked vehicles and slays one rapist-biker. One of the settlers is still clinging to life, and Max strikes a bargain with the man: he will return the badly-wounded man to the refinery compound in exchange for petrol. However, the deal falls through when the man dies following Max’s entry into the compound.

Humungous uses a public address system to offer the settlers and their leader Papagallo (Michael Preston) safe passage out of the wastelands if they leave the facility undamaged. Max has an alternative bargain for Papagallo: he will retrieve the abandoned Mack semi-truck he came across earlier in return for petrol and his freedom. This vehicle would be sufficient to haul their tanker-load of fuel out of the wastelands. The besieged settlers accept Max’s proposal, but retain his car. Max sneaks out of the compound at night, carrying fuel for the battered truck and the autogyro.

Max returns to the abandoned Mack truck and drives it back to the compound, despite the efforts of the Humungous and his men to stop the vehicle, in part due to help from air by the Gyro Captain. The settlers invite Max to escape with the group, but the psychologically-scarred Max opts to collect his petrol and leave. As Max tries to break through the siege and is chased down by a nitrous oxide powered car, his car is wrecked and he is badly injured — narrowly escaping some marauders, who trigger an explosive booby-trap and blow up his car. The semi-conscious Max is rescued by the Gyro Captain, who flies him back to the refinery, where the settlers are making hasty preparations to leave.

“Lord Humungous”, the leader of the vicious gang, inspires fear with his “bald, sutured scalp”, bulging muscles, and hockey goalies’ mask

Despite his injuries, Max insists on driving the freshly-repaired Mack truck with the fuel tanker. He roars out of the compound in the now heavily-armored truck, and he is pursued by the warriors on their cars and motorbikes. Several settlers are in armored positions on the tanker, and Pappagallo drives an escort vehicle. After a prolonged and violent chase, all the settlers on the tanker are killed, as is Pappagallo. Max kills Humungous and his lieutenant Wez by crashing head-on into their vehicle, causing a massive wreck.

The tanker is driven off the road, tips over, and sand spills from the overturned tank. The Mack truck and its tanker trailer were a decoy which allowed the bulk of the settlers to escape with their precious fuel in oil drums inside their vehicles. Back at the refinery, a handful of the marauders seize the empty compound, but the refinery is rigged to explode. With Papagallo dead, the Gyro Captain leads the settlers to the coast, where they establish the Great Northern Tribe. Max remains in the desert, once again becoming a drifter, alone in the wasteland.

Themes

Mad Max 2 used archetypal motifs of a besieged community of decent people who need protection against vicious bandits, a community which is rescued by a hardened man who rediscovers his humanity. These archetypes are common in the “Western” genre of American films, set on the US frontier in the late 1800s, and Japanese films such as Akira Kurosawa‘s Seven Samurai. There is a striking resemblance to the embittered, impenetrable “man with no name” character portrayed by Clint Eastwood in various 1960s European-produced Westerns.

The film depicts Max as a “desolate man” who has buried his feelings and his humanity after his wife and infant son are murdered in the first film. At first Max, a former police officer, refuses to help the settlers in their fight against Humungous, preferring to continue his life as a drifter on the wasteland. Eventually, though, Max and the settlers forge a respect for one another. Although Max turns down the offer to become a member of the settlement, he decides to risk his life to help them escape.

Max may also be regaining a little humanity when he befriends the “Feral Kid“, a child who lives in the wasteland near the refinery settlement. The feral kid growls in place of human speech, wears animal hides, and hunts and defends himself with a metal boomerang. The feral kid eventually becomes the leader of the Great Northern Tribe. At the end of the film, the film’s narrator reveals himself to be the now adult Feral Kid. See also: Feral children in mythology and fiction

The “Feral Kid”, a wild, boomerang-wielding child dressed in animal skins, was one of the intriguing characters in the film

Another theme in the movie is personal loss, because several characters have lost their family members or loved ones. Max has become a “shell of a man” after gang members killed his wife and baby and severely disfigured his friend “Goose” in the first Mad Max film. Personal loss is also depicted for several of the gang members. After Wez becomes distraught over the death of his male friend (the “golden youth”) in a battle, Humungous tries to calm him by telling him “…we have all lost someone we loved.” Humungous may also have faced personal loss, because when he takes his special gun (a Smith and Wesson Model 29) out from its padded case, a picture of two people is pinned to the inside, which may be his family.

Within the settler community characters, as well as the nomads, there are nods towards female independence (in an apparently male-dominated environment) and also positive portrayals of disability: even though the settler’s mechanic cannot use his legs, the film shows that he is very capable of maneuvering around the engines of cars and even large trucks, as well as fighting from a kind of counterweighted sling.

Some scenes in the film imply that some of the marauders are bi- or homosexual, such as Wez’ blonde-haired, young male friend who rides with him on his motorcycle, which the script refers to as a “strikingly beautiful” “golden boy.” Further allusion to this is made through barely audible lines spoken in the movie (plainly displayed in the subtitles) which refer to two “squads” under the Humungus’ control as being the “smegma crazies” and the “gayboy berserkers”. A reviewer from the New York Times noted that Humungus’ beserk lieutentant Wez “rides around on his bike, snarling psychotically, with his pretty blond boyfriend hanging onto his waist.”[2]

The concept of the settlers trying to escape a hostile environment mirrors the mass migration of families to the suburbs from overcrowded, blighted cities. Though the refinery does not resemble the modern definition of a city, one of the chief reasons for the city/suburb migration was an increasing violent crime rate among neighborhoods plagued by street gangs. Additionally, the fuel shortage that drives the plot is reflective of similar social conditions in Australia during the 1970s. The petroleum scarcity during that time led to violence amongst the car culture of that nation.[citation needed]

Characters

  • “Mad” Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) was a member of an elite Australian highway patrol unit and a family man in Mad Max 1. However, after a biker gang kills his family at the end of that film, he leaves the force and hunts down and kills all of the biker gang members. The trauma transforms him into the embittered, “burnt out” “shell of a man” that we are introduced to in the beginning of The Road Warrior. At first, the settlers dismiss Max as a mercenary and “a maggot [who is] living off the corpse of the old world.” Eventually, though, Max wins their admiration by his courage and fighting skills, and they accept his offer of help. Notably, while Max is featured in almost every frame of the film, he speaks only about a dozen lines. Gibson described his approach to the character as “Heavy Metal acting, doing less and making more of it.”
  • Pappagallo (Mike Preston) is the idealistic leader of the settlers in the barricaded oil refinery that Max discovers in the wastelands of the Australian outback. Even though the settlers’ compound is besieged by a violent gang, Pappagallo “…carries the weight of his predicament with swaggering dignity.” [3] While the film does not reveal his background prior to the apocalyptic war, the script states that was formerly the chief executive officer of a petroleum company.
  • The Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence) is a wanderer like Max, who combs the wasteland scavenging for fuel and supplies. However, instead of driving a car, the Captain flies in a ramshackle old gyrocopter and ambush people who try to steal his parked autogyro. Like Max, he eventually decides to throw in his lot with the settlers, and help defend their compound. A Time reviewer called the Captain “a deranged parody of the World War I aerial ace: scarecrow skinny, gaily clad, sporting a James Coburn smile with advanced caries.” An eccentric character, he “is given to abrupt whinnies and wistful meditations on the good old days” before the war.[4]
  • Lord Humungus (Kjell Nilsson) is the violent, yet charismatic and articulate leader of a “vicious gang of post-holocaust, motorcycle-riding vandals” who “loot, rape, and kill the few remaining wasteland dwellers[5]Styling himself the “warrior of the wasteland, [and] the ayatullah of rock-and-rollah”, Humungus’ “malevolence courses through his huge pectorals, [and] pulses visibly under his bald, sutured scalp.”[6]Humungus’ face is never seen, as he wears a hockey goalies’ mask; as far as clothing, he has a bare torso adorned only with leather biker paraphenalia.
  • Wez (Vernon Wells) is a mohawked, leather-clad biker who serves as Humungus’ lieutentant in the gang, leading groups the warrior-bikers in several battles. A New York Times reviewer called the Wez character the “most evil of the Humungus’s followers…[a] huge brute who rides around on his bike, snarling psychotically, with his pretty blond boyfriend hanging onto his waist.”[7]

Critical reception

The film’s depiction of a post-apocalyptic future was widely copied by other filmmakers and in science fiction novels, to the point that its gritty “…junkyard society of the future look…is almost taken for granted in the modern sf action film.”[8] The Encyclopedia Of Science Fiction says that Mad Max 2, “…with all its comic-strip energy and vividness…is exploitation cinema at its most inventive.” Reviewer Roger Ebert calls Mad Max 2 “skillful filmmaking,” “…a film of pure action, of kinetic energy”, which is “…one of the most relentlessly aggressive movies ever made”. While Ebert points out that the movie does not develop its “…vision of a violent future world…with characters and dialogue”, and uses only the “…barest possible bones of a plot,” he praises its action sequences. Ebert calls the climactic chase sequence “…unbelievably well-sustained” and states that the “…special effects and stunts…are spectacular”, creating a “…frightening, sometimes disgusting, and (if the truth be told) exhilarating” effect.

Reviewer Pauline Kael called Mad Max 2 a “mutant” film that was “…sprung from virtually all action genres,” creating “…one continuous spurt of energy” by using “…jangly, fast editing.” However, Kael criticized director George Miller’s “…attempt to tap into the universal concept of the hero”, stating that this attempt “…makes the film joyless”, “sappy”, and “sentimental.”

Richard Scheib calls Mad Max 2, “…one of the few occasions where a sequel makes a dramatic improvement in quality over its predecessor.” He calls it a “kinetic comic-book of a film,” an “… exhilarating non-stop rollercoaster ride of a film that contains some of the most exciting stunts and car crashes ever put on screen.” Scheib states that the film transforms the “…post-holocaust landscape into the equivalent of a Western frontier,” such that “…Mel Gibson’s Max could just as easily be Clint Eastwood‘s tight-lipped Man With No Name” helping “…decent frightened folk” from the marauding Indians.[9]

Critics praised the stuntwork and mobile camera techniques, particularly during the final chase and showdown. The use of fender-mounted cameras at high speeds was similar to the Frankenheimer race film Grand Prix and the staccato editing style helped give the illusion of very fast speeds, although other critics were concerned about the shocking violence in the film, which included rape, torture and brutal murders at the hands of the marauding biker gang. As of 2007, the movie has a rare 100% fresh rating at the movie review website rottentomatoes.com.

Vehicles

The film’s tale of settlers that have to defend themselves from a roving band of marauders transplants the archetypal “Western” frontier movie concepts to the post-apocalyptic desert wastes. In place of horses and stagecoaches, the film uses large number of cars, motorbikes, trucks, and custom-made vehicles which are often chopped up and hot-rodded with superchargers and engine modifications and geared up for post-apocalypse highway battles with armour plating, mounted crossbow-launcher weapons, and reinforced bumpers.

Replica Mad Max Pursuit Special vehicle outside the Silverton Hotel

Replica Mad Max Pursuit Special vehicle outside the Silverton Hotel

Max’s powerful black-painted muscle car is a modified Pursuit Special, a Ford Falcon XB GT coupe with a V8 engine (“the last of the V8s”) that the police forces customized for use as a police Pursuit Special in the first Mad Max film. The car is depicted with a supercharger protruding through the hood which can be toggled on and off, and its black body is scarred and scratched from Max’s journeys in the wasteland. The precious contents of the Pursuit Special’s petrol tanks are protected from thieves with an explosive “booby trap” and a sheathed knife is hidden on the underbody of the vehicle.

The large Mack truck used to pull the oil tanker is a 1970s Mack R-600 with a “coolpower” engine setup (the coolpower setup uses an aftercooler on the cylinder head and a tip turbine fan) and a twin-stick transmission. The Mack has a locomotive-style cowcatcher mounted on the front to protect the vehicle from crash impacts, armoured plates welded in front of the radiator (with air slits for cooling ventilation), and armoured cages around the wheels. The trailer is protected with fortified, spike-encrusted turrets and barbed wire strung up along the sides of the tanker.

Humungus’ bizarre vehicle is a heavily modified Ford F-100 Ute, which is depicted with a custom-made Nitrous Oxide booster system. The marauders use an early 1970s red F-100 with a cobra painted on the doors, and a cut-down boat-style windshield during the final chase scenes. Humungus’s lieutenant Wez drives an early 1980s model Suzuki GSX1000 motorbike in the film, and later is seen riding on a Yamaha XS1100E motorbike with a sidecar. Most of the dune buggies used in the film were VW-based modified “sandrail” kitcars, with single-axle drive train and suspension.

The settler leader Pappagallo’s vehicle, which was captured from the marauders in an earlier battle, has two Ford 351 engines, one on the front, and one on the back. Other vehicles used in the movie include a variety of Australian muscle cars, including a 1974 ZG Fairlane, with LTD front guards; a custom-made vehicle with open engine bay and half of its roof chopped out, and a 6/71 supercharger; a Holden Monaro with a custom front and a roof opening; an LC/LJ Holden Torana which has been custom-modified into a Speedway car; a Ford XA Falcon, a Valiant VH coupe; a VW Kombi; a Ford Landau; and various Valiant Chargers.

The main gate of the settlement is a Commer School Bus with jury-rigged plate metal armour. This bus is also the main escape vehicle for the settlers at the end of the film. Several of the besieging warriors’ vehicles appear to be of the same type as seen used as police pursuit cars in the first Mad Max film. While the use of similar vehicles could suggest that some of the gang members are police officers-gone bad, it could also suggest that the police cars were taken by force by marauding gang members.

Filming locations

Higher resolution Google Earth images updated 2006-08

Soundtrack

The film score was composed and conducted by Australian composer Brian May. The 35 minute-long recording is available on CD on the Varese Sarabande label, catalog number VCD 47262. The music is presented out of order and sometimes retitled; part of the track titled “Finale and Largo” is actually the main title, “Montage” was written for the truck chase scene (and as such would fit between “Break Out” and “Largo”) and the “Main Title” is actually the post-title montage. The sound effects suite that concludes the disc has two cues, “Boomerang Attack” and “Gyro Flight,” that do not appear elsewhere on the album (the former is actually presented without any overlaying effects).

The soundtrack begins with the music for the “Montage/Main Title” sequence, which gives the backstory to the descent into war and chaos. The next selections accompany the action-packed sequences as Max and the settlers battle with the gang (“Confrontation”; “Marauder’s Massacre”, “Max Enters Compound”; “Gyro Saves Max”; and “Break Out”). The final tracks include the “Finale and Largo” and the “End Title” music, which is used while the narrator describes the settler’s escape to the coast to start a new life. The recording also includes a suite of special effects sounds, such as the Feral Kid’s “Boomerang Attack”; “Gyro Flight”;”The Big Rig Starts”;”Breakout”; and the climactic effects for “The Refinery Explodes”, when the booby-trapped oil refinery turns into fireball.

Influences in other media

The Japanese manga/anime Hokuto no Ken (Fist of the North Star) is influenced by the Mad Max series, especially Mad Max 2. The first few plotlines have apost-apocalyptic setting, in which biker gangs terrorize settler groups. The fictional military force Barjack in the Battle Angel Alita manga uses vehicles armed and modified that appear to have been inspired by the vehicles used in The Road Warrior.

The computer role-playing games Wasteland, Fallout, its sequel Fallout 2, as well as Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel are influenced by the Mad Max movies, in addition to their 50s pulp sci-fi design. In the game Fallout, one of the armour items is a one-sleeved leather jacket similar to that worn by Max.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers made a Road Warrior-influenced video for their 1982 song “You Got Lucky”, which had the band traveling a post-apocalyptic wasteland in a futuristic car and a motorcycle with sidecar. LL Cool J appeared in a video influenced by the Mad Max theme in “The Boomin System”. Phil Collins‘ music video for the song “Don’t Lose My Number” included a parody of the movie, with Collins as Wez. A TV commercial by NASCAR‘s Dale Earnhardt, Jr. shows his car being chased down a desolate highway in a desert setting by a gang. In the novel Warriors of Ultrimar, the leader of a group of refuges in erebus city is led by an old man named Papa Gallo. The film has also influenced the professional wrestling tag team The Road Warriors, which are named after the film. The Lord Humungus character was used in professional wrestlers such as Sid Eudy (who went by the stage name Sid Vicious).

In the “Bart vs. Australia” episode of The Simpsons, the Simpson family is chased by an angry mob and a biker. The episode “Beyond Blunderdome” has references to and parodies of this film and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. In the “Proper Condom Use” episode of South Park, the confrontation between the boys and girls depicts Butters wearing a Lord Humungus-style mask and speaking his line, “Just walk away”, and Kenny is killed by a boomerang. In the episode “The Passion of the Jew” an animated Mel Gibson is seen driving one of the Mad Max vehicles in a recreation of the Mac truck chase scene, climaxing with him blowing up a movie theater. In an episode of the Internet series Red vs. Blue, Tucker attempts to point out how Hollywood doesn’t really understand the apocalypse and uses this film as an example, stating that “[Hollywood] thinks one thing from everyday life goes away and that changes everything, like in Road Warrior it was gas”.

In the CGI animation TV show ReBoot, a game was played in the Mad Max universe, which included vehicles and the Humungus. Jeremy Clarkson referenced the film in an episode of Top Gear, a BBC television series about cars with a quirky, humorous style. The series depicted a rebuilt Lancia Beta Coupe with a roof-mounted megaphone. The two-part episode “Movie Madness” from Power Rangers: Time Force included a reference to the film in a section with the villains of the series using various vehicles to chase down the Rangers while in a wasteland. Vernon Wells starred as Time Force’s main villain, not coincidentally.

External links

References

  1. ^ Reviewer Richard Scheib stated that Gibson’s role could “just as easily be Clint Eastwood‘s tight-lipped Man With No Name” helping “…decent frightened folk” from the marauding Indians.” 1990. Available at: http://www.moria.co.nz/sf/madmax2.htm
  2. ^ POST-NUCLEAR ‘ROAD WARRIOR’ VINCENT CANBY April 28, 1982 http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E0DE3DB103BF93BA15757C0A964948260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all
  3. ^ http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,925397-2,00.html
  4. ^ http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,925397-2,00.html
  5. ^ POST-NUCLEAR ‘ROAD WARRIOR’ VINCENT CANBY April 28, 1982 http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E0DE3DB103BF93BA15757C0A964948260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all
  6. ^ http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,925397-2,00.html
  7. ^ POST-NUCLEAR ‘ROAD WARRIOR’ VINCENT CANBY April 28, 1982 http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E0DE3DB103BF93BA15757C0A964948260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all
  8. ^ Richard Scheib. 1990. Available at: http://www.moria.co.nz/sf/madmax2.htm
  9. ^ Richard Scheib. 1990. Available at: http://www.moria.co.nz/sf/madmax2.htm

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