“They say people don’t believe in heroes anymore. Well damn them! You and me, Max, we’re gonna give them back their heroes!”
It was with great anticipation that I finally watched the original Mad Max. Like most people, I was blown away by Fury Road a few years back, and I was even more blown away by Babe, the talking pig movie written and produced by George Miller. Maybe watching the Mad Max movies in the wrong order isn’t a good call, though, because from what I’ve seen (all but Road Warrior), they only get zanier as they progress, and with a story like Mad Max, that’s where the quality lies: in its chaos. However, I still enjoyed this movie quite a bit and consider it a valuable predecessor to a lot of movies that I adore today.
Mad Max features our titular hero Max (Mel Gibson), a highway patrolman keeping the peace in the outset of a dystopian future in Australia. Any sort of police force are spread thin, and indulgent hedonists seem to run things as the foundations of society collapse. Max is the antithesis: a morally virtuous action hero (at least at first), and he seems to be the film’s only savior in a lawless land abused by a savage motorcycle gang, the collective antagonist of the movie. As things get personal and Max’s wife and child are thrown into the mix, we see Max transition from an upstanding lawman to a cold-blooded killer in the pursuit of vengeance.
Similar to other films in the franchise, the original Mad Max wastes no time as it pulls you into its world, presenting a satisfying car chase in the first twenty minutes that jump starts the rest of the action. It’s a continuous film, and this is why I think it’s become so influential. Just like the car chases contained within, the movie seems fast and fluid with a steady progression of events that result in a satisfying showdown. This is where the movie works best: when it’s unapologetically heaps of fun.
I’ll have to admit that I didn’t find myself completely invested in the story. Maybe I just wasn’t watching under the right circumstances, but I found the movie a little lacking in heart. Mel Gibson has always left a bad taste in my mouth, and while his portrayal of Max is slick, there’s no passion compared to what Tom Hardy would later bring to the role. You don’t get a lot of Max’s backstory, but Gibson seems to play the role accordingly: as a blank slate. Granted action movies (and cinema altogether) was wildly different in 1979, I couldn’t help feeling a little guarded with the movie. It examines the notion of morality and the need for heroes in a post-structure society, but it does so in a very surface way without any characters that really drive the point home. As is often the case, I think I’m just having a hard time clearing my mind to the conventions of the time (dull action heroes), but I think if the movie had been a bit more careful with its characters, it could have gotten me more on its side.
Regardless of my issues with the film, which I feel are circumstantial, a few other things really impressed me in the movie. I mentioned that the story ramps into gear quickly and continues to accelerate, but I think you could say the same about the world-building. Miller has a twisted but carefully planned universe that only continues to degrade as these films continue, and it’s really fun to plot the progress along the way. Other little details make this movie exciting in a fandom sort of way, such as the V8 Interceptors and even just the silly names of the bad guys which make their ultimate fates far more comical, also suggesting that Miller is never taking his work too seriously given its subject matter.
Mad Max may have some aging issues for me, but I think it’s a really entertaining ride. It’s got sharp details, well-shot action, and a quick and dirty story that leaves you satisfied and feeling like you need a shower (in a good way). I only wish it had a talking pig.
Films Left to Watch: 871