directed by George Miller (1979, 1981, 1985)
The Mad Max trilogy is a grim, inventive B-movie blend of sci fi and action the likes of which I wish was made more often. Instead of drawing from established science fiction, it made its own mark on the genre and is frequently imitated to this day.
The first film, Mad Max, is the bleakest and the most menacing. Set in a nearer future where the world has certainly changed but some semblances of society are still intact (like family, a police force, and community – albeit broken versions), Gibson plays a law enforcer driven to “Mad”ness Max when a crazy band of outlaws, headed by psycho Toe Cutter, mow down his dearest (if you thought Bambi’s mom being killed was dreadful…) It’s the most convoluted of the three films, and the roughest around the edges, but it sets up the believable dystopia (with a distinctly Australian grit) that endures throughout the trilogy.
Road Warrior, also known as Mad Max 2, finds Max mid road battle with a band of incredibly awesome punk bad guys before stumbling across a ragtag, more peaceful group of gas hoarders in need of just the kind of reluctant heroism a once likable and handsome Gibson was capable of before he became such an evil prick in real life. The story is spare and harsh and once again there’s eye popping, over-the-top costumes and art design which might border on silly if designer Norma Moriceau weren’t so ballsy about it all. In fact, the entire series benefits from the no apologies, true B-movie bad-assness that can spawn straight-faced characters like Lord Humungus, Gayboy Berzerkers, The Toecutter, and Pig Killer. The second installment might just be my favorite of the bunch with its straight forward, almost all action punch.
The trilogy gained some considerable gloss (which rears its ugly head with that head scratching saxophone that was so prevalent at the time – see Ladyhawke) with Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome but it’s a film very dear to my heart; as a kid my sister and I would quote “Master Blaster runs Bartertown!” endlessly. While it definitely ventures into Ewokish territory with the nearly cartoonish second half that features a band of lost kids and goofier violence (it seems strange that the menacing Ironbar played by a sneering Angry Anderson should leave this world in such a Wile E Coyote fashion), still it’s visually stunning and unique with unforgettable set pieces. Bartertown itself, a literal cesspool of vice run on pig shit where feuds are settled in the Thunderdome (two men enter, one man leaves!) has got to be one of cinema’s most memorable post apocalyptic towns and to be honest, I was on Aunty Entity’s side when Max plus brats tore it apart. Like it or not, Aunty (played with the kind of sexually bold bravado that only Tina could lend the role) brought order to an insane world… but perhaps I’m thinking too deeply about it.
There were once rumors of a fourth starring Heath Ledger, which obviously is no longer the case and with Mel’s latest rants of hate and general horribleness, I hope the rumors of his cameos are not true. More intriguing are the latest chit chat circulating about the dashing Tom Hardy (the guy that out did Leo in Inception) taking over the role in a plot that includes “Five Wives” that need protecting. Let’s hope creator George Miller, whose been behind all of the films continues his vision of pure, exploitation cool.