“My life fades. The vision dims. All that remains are memories. I remember a time of chaos. Ruined dreams. This wasted land. But most of all, I remember The Road Warrior. The man we called ‘Max’…In the roar of an engine, he lost everything. And became a shell of a man, a burnt out, desolate man, a man haunted by the demons of his past, a man who wandered out into the wasteland. And it was here, in this blighted place, that he learned to live again…”
God, I love that. I’d forgotten how much I love The Road Warrior until I caught part of it on TV the other day, which inspired me to dust off my old DVD copy of it and give it another watch.
It’s such a great movie, and its greatness is apparent right from the opening narration. Starting a movie with voiceover can be risky, but I can’t think of any other movie that does it as well as The Road Warrior. It sets the stage perfectly. It’s evocative and poetic, and gives some background to the story while still leaving room in the viewer’s mind for interpretation.
This is even more impressive considering the fact that the movie is actually a sequel to an earlier film. The Road Warrior is actually Mad Max 2, but it was renamed The Road Warrior in the US because the first Mad Max, released in 1979, received only limited distribution in the United States. So when a sequel was made, they changed the name for US distribution in order to avoid confusing audiences.
I’m kind of glad it worked out that way to be honest, since it had the effect of making The Road Warrior feel like a very standalone movie. The opening narration does include some brief flashbacks to the first movie, but The Road Warrior is still very much its own film.
And I like that because it makes the whole movie feel so much more mysterious. It’s one of those rare sequels that is able to stand completely on its own.
In that respect it is not unlike its protagonist, a classic loner whose only companions are his car, his dog, and his double-barreled sawed-off shotgun.
It’s a classic archetype, from The Man With No Name…
To Conan the Barbarian…
To Jack Reacher…
To any number of other westerns and samurai movies.
Some time ago I wrote about ONE MAN MOVIES, in which ONLY ONE MAN can save the day. The Road Warrior is definitely a ONE MAN MOVIE, but of a somewhat different sort. It belongs to the variety of ONE MAN MOVIE in which the protagonist is given little background, shows up out of nowhere to help people in need, and then disappears into the sunset, never to be seen again.
And yes, I realize that Max’s background is shown in the first movie, but the entire point of what I was saying earlier is that there is little background given for Max in just this particular movie, so that the viewer is able to make it up for him- or herself.
Max becomes a sort of mythological figure in the movie, the kind of man told about in stories around the campfire. He showed up, he saved them from the marauders, and then he vanished. And I just love that. I’ve always been a bit of a loner myself, and that type of character has always really appealed to me. And clearly I’m not the only one, since there are so many examples of this type of character.
The Road Warrior is a dreamlike movie, and it succeeds with only the bare minimum of plot. It takes place in a world that has elements of the world we live in, but is dramatically different in myriad other ways.
There’s also not a great deal of dialogue in the film, and there doesn’t really need to be. According to the movie’s trivia section on IMDb, Mel Gibson only has 16 lines of dialogue in the entire film, and two of them are “I only came for the gasoline.” This is a man who doesn’t waste words, and, as with anyone who doesn’t talk much, this has the effect of making everything he says have much more impact. So you know he’s serious when he says the classic line, “You want to get out of here? You talk to me.”
I’ve praised Mel Gibson’s acting before when I wrote about Lethal Weapon, and I will praise him again here. He’s so good as Max that it is difficult to imagine anyone else playing Max in the movie. He underplays Max so that his motives aren’t always clear, which makes him riveting to watch because you’re never quite sure what he’s going to do next.
Max isn’t the only memorable character in the movie, either. The villains in particular are just as memorable, from the leader of the bad guys, The Humungus…
To his main henchman, Wez…
I like to imagine that Wez and the Humungus were like accountants or Microsofties or something who went totally batshit once the world went to hell and became post-apocalyptic marauders. It’s unlikely, especially given the Humungus’ bodybuilder-like physique (have you ever known a Microsoftie that buff?) but it’s entirely possible.
As a side note, Wez is played by the same actor who played Bennett in Commando, and if you’re as big of a fan of that movie as I am you’ll know who that is right off the top of your head.
And of course I can’t forget to mention the epic chase scenes. The Road Warrior is a classic car movie, with stunts, crashes, and chases that still stand up more than thirty years after the movie was released. The final chase sequence in this movie is epic, and easily ranks among the greatest cinematic car chases of all time. It’s even more impressive when you consider that this film was made before the advent of computer-generated special effects, so everything you see in the movie is completely real, and every vehicle had an actual driver.
It’s also worth mentioning that Max is one of only two characters in the movie who uses an actual firearm, everyone else uses mostly crossbows. That the movie is able to sustain as much tension as it does largely without the use of guns is another impressive feat.
The Road Warrior is a classic. It’s just a really great movie that holds up really well more than thirty years after it was released. It has had a huge impact on popular culture, which it is set to continue in 2015, when the long-delayed fourth film Mad Max: Fury Road will be released, starring Tom Hardy as Max and directed by the same guy who directed The Road Warrior, George Miller. The first trailer was just released at Comic-Con and I have to say that it looks pretty promising. Check it out if you haven’t already.
I for one can’t wait to see what the future has in store…for the man we called Max.