Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)

“Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior” is a groundbreaking, genre-defining, brilliant Australian classic. Set after an apocalyptic event occurring sometime after the first film, “The Road Warrior” is explicitly post-apocalyptic. Images like Max in his leathers accompanied by his dog, Max using a helmet to desperately collect dripping oil, and the bikers in their BDSM-inspired gear defined so much of the visuals of post-apocalyptic stories to come. Bursting with kinetic energy, iconic imagery, and spectacularly-staged stunts, it’s no wonder the film continues to resonate as well as it does.

Miller continues the “silent movie…with sound!” aesthetic he used for the first film, with visual design and cinematography driving the story far more than dialogue or explicit worldbuilding. With the social contract well and truly broken down, Australia is truly now a barbaric wasteland, with the small community around the oil refinery a rare pocket of civilisation. Rather than hear through dialogue what has happened to the world, or how desperate times are, we instead see Max desperately try to syphon some small drips of oil, we see the Gyro Captain clamber for scraps of dog food, we see the meagre defences of the refinery community.

The structure that the rest of the films of the series would follow is established here; Max’s exploits are more like tales told around a fire – legends – than actual fact, he wanders like a Western hero and finds people he gets caught up with and eventually plays a part in fixing their problems, Max is more a vehicle for the story than an active participant as others fill in that role (the community in this film, Furiosa and the wives in “Mad Max: Fury Road”, Tina Turner and the kids in “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome”). Carried over from the first film is having a tremendous chase sequence for the third act of the film, this one particularly well-staged. The pacing and editing of the chase sequence is brilliant, retaining audience engagement, but keeping extremely clear what’s going on at all times – you won’t find any dizzying cuts here.

The film lacks as detailed a plot as the first film, but I think it’s stronger for it, as it allows Miller to indulge the “silent movie with sound” vision more, and focus on telling the sparse story through stunts and images. The music is dated though (albeit not as much as Beyond Thunderdome’s), and some of the acting crosses the line from silent-film inspired drama to flat-out camp.

Exhilarating choreography, iconic (even genre-defining) images, tantalising worldbuilding…the film would seem the perfection of Miller’s vision for the series, if it weren’t for “Mad Max: Fury Road”. The one area I’d say it has over Fury Road is in genre construction, as this film truly helped laid the ground for the post-apocalyptic genre.

I give it four boomerangs, and a sawed-off shotgun.

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