Mad Max (1980)
Release Date: May 9th, 1980 MPAA Rating: R
Director: George Miller Actors: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Steve Bisley, Tim Burns, Roger Ward, Lisa Aldenhoven, Robina Chaffey
few years from now, in a decidedly more chaotic Australia, several idle Main Force Patrol officers are alerted to a cop killer duo on the run. They immediately scramble to Anarchie Road, somewhere on Highway 9, Sector 26 – a particularly deadly road – where the maniacal murderers recklessly careen across. Calling himself the Night Rider (Vince Gil), the cackling driver is no match for “Mad” Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), a law enforcer with considerable driving skills and unwavering determination, whose pursuit causes the wanted twosome to crash into a roadblock (ending in a ball of fire).
A few days later, Max is informed by colleague Fifi MacAfee (Roger Ward) that the Night Rider has some dangerous friends: a legion of nomadic bikers, now in search of the man responsible for their associate’s demise. When the gang attacks a motorist and rapes his young female companion, they leave a lone member behind (Johnny the Boy, played by Tim Burns) for Max and his partner Jim Goose (Steve Bisley) to arrest. But the frightened townsfolk are too intimidated to successfully prosecute the scapegoat, who is eventually set free – setting in motion a plot of malicious devastation and Max’s unavoidable descent into bloody vigilante justice.
The setting of “Mad Max” is far less anarchical and postapocalyptic than in the more influential and famous sequel “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior,” arriving two years later, which saw a drastic decrease in civilization and societal structuring (and saxophone melodies). The extreme lawlessness and disorder, along with the desert wasteland communities and creatively patchworked ATVs, better suit the untamable nature of the hero, who is quite entertaining when he’s not bound by any rules or legal complications whatsoever. Here, a rather sizable chunk of the film is parceled to develop a romance with Jessie (Joanne Samuel), which takes the action away from the dusty, desolate roadways.
The vehicle stunts are grandly destructive, with motorcycles skidding across the asphalt, cars bursting through trailers, and yellow police cruisers rolling down hillsides. Many of these sequences are reminiscent of the excessive rambunctiousness seen in “Death Race 2000,” while also borrowing the vigilante theme from “Dirty Harry” (lead villain Toecutter, portrayed by Hugh Keays-Byrne, is also something of a take on Andy Robinson’s killer, especially when paired with Burns’ sniveling). “Mad Max’s” low budget, practical effects, depiction of a dystopian future, and focus on adventure importantly lend to ideas in “Escape from New York,” “Tank Girl,” “Robocop,” “Waterworld,” and even “The Terminator.” The scene transitions and attention to continuity aren’t the most scrutinized, but the editing and framing of action sequences never betray the age of the film. And the high-octane climax still demonstrates a flair for showy carnage and amusing comeuppance, combating the heavy tragedies and dark mood of the storyline.
– Mike Massie