Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1982)
Release Date: May 21st, 1982 MPAA Rating: R
Director: George Miller Actors: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Mike Preston, Vernon Wells, Kjell Nilsson, Emil Minty, Virginia Hey, William Zappa, Arkie Whiteley, Moira Claux
remember the ‘Road Warrior,’” exclaims the narrator (who is, in the film, the feral kid, played by Emil Minty), telling the story of the man called Max (Mel Gibson), who lost his wife and child to a merciless gang of bikers, wandered out into the wasteland of a postapocalyptic world, and learned to live again as a ruthless survivor. It picks up after the first film, “Mad Max” (1980), and attaches a narration to describe a brief history of the two superpowers that fought one another until the earth became a firestorm of fear, where “survival of the fittest” is the predominant maxim, and gangs took over the desert highways. This direct sequel could just as easily have been a remake or entirely new project, upping the stylization, production value, and focus of a lawless fight against villainy, to create a superior vision of warring tribes that, without spending time on backstory, instead cuts straight to the action. Gibson’s performance certainly doesn’t need origins, embodying a lone-wolf rogue who serves only himself and never minces words. The entire story’s simplicity and steadfast drive are spectacularly utilized.
Max comes upon a scrawny pilot (Bruce Spence) who leads him to a massive oil refinery installation in the middle of the desert, where substantial amounts of gasoline could be had for any group crafty enough to steal it. The problem is that it’s a heavily guarded stronghold with dozens of semi-civilized soldiers. Their primary enemies are a significantly more barbarous gang, manning makeshift, cannibalized vehicles brimming with weaponry, used to hunt loners in the unforgiving sahara and guard the main roads, essentially laying siege to the petrol base.
When Max momentarily saves the life of a scout whose truck is attacked by the vicious leader of the warring gang, dubbed “The Humungus” (Kjell Nilsson), he’s given an opportunity to negotiate a temporary truce with the priceless gasoline keepers. In exchange for locating a vehicle powerful enough to haul their precious fuel, Max requests the return of his own car and all the combustible matter he can carry. As each offensive by Humungus reaps greater damage, the stranded subsisters realize they must attempt a battering ram-styled push to the sunburnt roads if they hope to escape with their lives.
Decked out in black leather and chains, thick furs and dark feathers, and metallic armor like sadomasochistic cavemen, the film brandishes a costume-heavy look that would become the archetype for end-of-the-world, barren, nuclear warfare-devastated badlands. Disfigured faces, colored mohawks, bare flesh, piecemeal uniforms, and general filth and grime blanket the characters, with the more civilized bunch wearing whites (and including fiery-haired Amazonian women), while the antagonists wear blacks and Indian-like war paint. Additionally, violence, bloodshed, misplaced but effective humor, action, and gratuitous nudity, all supplement this visually thrilling exploitation (or Ozploitation) epic. The most enjoyable feature, however, is the collection of hair-raising stunts, most complexly demonstrated at the climax, augmented with exciting camerawork, enormous explosions, and pounding music. The high-speed, grandly destructive chase on the freeway touts death-defying stuntmen, nonstop energy, and pulse-pounding choreography that would inspire many (if not all) road movies and postapocalyptic actioners to come.
– Mike Massie