Directed by: George Miller || Produced by: Bryon Kennedy, Bill Miller
Screenplay by: George Miller, Bryon Kennedy, James McCausland || Starring: Mel Gibson, Steve Bisley, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Tim Burns, Geoff Parry, Roger Ward, Jonathan Hardy
Music by: Brian May || Cinematography: David Eggby || Edited by: Cliff Hayes, Tony Paterson || Country: Australia || Language: English
Running Time: 93 minutes
The original action breakthrough for American-Australian film phenom, Mel Gibson, was George Miller’s Mad Max trilogy (1979, 1981, 1985), a dystopian, post-apocalyptic Australian action franchise that has since become one of the most widely recognized and beloved fan-favorites from Down Under. Even if you’ve never seen Mad Max (MM) or its sequels, you’re probably familiar with many of the franchise’s tropes through osmosis alone, namely fast car chases, leather jackets, and old-fashioned 1970s-1980s hardcore violence in the name of a barely controlled “law” of the land.
Unsurprisingly, Gibson established his half-cocked, headstrong, borderline manic star persona with this road warrior trilogy, a personal reputation that has followed the actor-writer-producer-director both on-screen and off for the past thirty plus years. As the title would imply, Gibson’s protagonist, Main Force Patrol officer Max Rockatansky (an outstanding name, by the way) gets quite mad in this movie, and for good reason. The film is very much an action flick of its time, forgoing any superhero-in-tights code of ethics for badass, unapologetic combat antics that have gone by the wayside in modern Western filmmaking. There’s no question that Gibson and the action in this film, from the car chases to the shootouts to the brass knuckled fisticuffs, are the film’s main selling points. But can the rest of the film hold up to the legacy of this Aussie classic?
In my mind, much of the premise and setting of MM feels poorly fleshed out. If you read the film’s IMDB page or its Wikipedia entry, you’ll find descriptions of the history leading up to the film’s dystopian future, including breakdowns of law and order from energy crises. However, most everything in the story looks, sounds, and feels the same as an ordinary world order. There isn’t much exposition to explain what’s going on in the background, and life seems the same as it always has, save for how police wear cool leather jackets and drive badass Ford XB Falcons. Altogether, much of the implied dystopia in the film’s setting is either poorly explained or of little interest to the main plot, so I found the intriguing premise to be a letdown. It’s just an excuse for lowering the level of suspension of disbelief during ballsy, outrageous chase-sequences featuring loose trigger fingers.
However, nobody loves MM for its deep writing nor its multi-layered fictional lore — the film’s charm is in Mel Gibson’s badboy demeanor and the altogether ridiculous antics taking place on-screen, as souped-up sports cars zoom by and motorbikes dodge (or get smashed by) semi-trucks, and cops blast sawed-off shotguns at escaping marauders. Despite the picture’s drab palette and cheap-looking sets, the narrative’s pulpy feel and melodramatic action chemically react like a ’70’s action fanboy fever-dream. Most of the time, Gibson’s revenge-fueled road rage will make you forget the contradiction of a world supposedly decimated by depleted fossil fuels, yet also dominated by so much gas-guzzling, high-octane vehicular action; it’ll also help you overlook how the rest of the cast is a forgettable collection of caricatures and uninteresting weirdos.
In summary, if you haven’t watched this 1979 Australian action classic, don’t go into it expecting a tight-nit screenplay nor a particularly sensible premise, but you’re sure to enjoy yourself with all the violent chaos. Mel Gibson is as charismatic as he would ever be (which is considerable) despite, or perhaps largely because his manic mood and over-the-top attitude; he sells his character and the movie well. There aren’t many native Australian films that have crossed North American borders or achieved true international recognition, but this is one of the landmark projects from Down Under that all movie fans, not just action-junkies, should be familiar with. Embrace the madness.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Mad Max’s action-packed rampages and Gibson’s handsome mania are the main reasons to see this film. And they’re both damned good reasons. The film is well paced at a brisk 93 minutes and ends on a fittingly grim note.
— However… there’s not much narrative substance in the film’s post-apocalyptic setting, nor is the supporting cast particularly interesting. Many of the over-the-top performances have not aged well.
? If you think Gibson’s ultimatum offered to the last bad guy at the end of the film inspired a rather repetitive horror franchise years later, you’re on the money.