*dedicated to my fellow Road Warriors Ethan and Alex…and the rest of “the Thunderdome”
This past week, I have had the unique opportunity to view all four installments of the Mad Max saga in rapid succession. Was this experience the best possible use of my time abroad? No, probably not. Was it fun? Yeah, it was. The Mad Max movies aren’t for everyone, as evidenced by the fact that the six simple police officers that attended the first viewing were eventually whittled down to three true road warriors (plus one that looked at his laptop the entire time.) I am sitting on a train ride to Toledo with no Wi-Fi, and for that reason I will now begin the comprehensive guide to the Mad Max series. Spoilers, by the way. It all starts with…
aka Max gets Mad
The original Mad Max was not what I was expecting, especially coming off the high-octane, guitar-shredding, beast of a film (Mad Max: Fury Road) that we saw in theaters. This Mad Max was more laid back; like its protagonist, it’s cool and detached. Max (Mel Gibson, in one of his first starring roles) is introduced as a leather glove-wearing cop in Australia, whose fearless driving skills dispatch a cop-killing junkie called Nightrider in the opening minutes of the film. Turns out that this junkie is part of larger gang loyal to a guy named Toecutter.
Which one is Toecutter?*
The gang seems to enjoy nothing but sabotaging the cops’ cars, which they do often. Max and his friend Goose set out to take down the gang, but Goose is taken out by Johnny the Boy, who lights him on fire under the pressure of Toecutter. Max sees his friend’s charred body in the hospital and is traumatized. He takes time off from the force, spending it all with his wife and son, Sproggo (worse name than Toecutter somehow.) They get ice cream, they do rope swings into rivers, have picnics, say cheesy things and make out. But before things go full blown rom-com, the gang comes back for Max. As he tries to get his family out of harms way, his wife and son fall from the car and are run over by Toecutter. When Max sees them dead he goes…mad. He sets out with a vengeance and one by one, kills the gang in various automobile-related ways. He then drives off into the distance alone, never to be seen again. Until…
Mad Max 2: Road Warrior
aka The Auto Western
Road Warrior is often cited as one of the best action movies of all time. It also launched the career of Mel Gibson, which can be seen as a good thing (Lethal Weapon, Braveheart) or a travesty (Apocalypto, Passion of the Christ, anti-Semitic ranting.) It definitely has the themes of a Western—nameless rogue (Max) shows up and helps strangers out of his own self-interest…but then starts to empathize with them and sacrifices himself for their well-being. This one is action from the word go. It is mindless entertainment with almost no dialogue. To start, Max is chilling with his dog in the desert when some guy tries to rob him. He turns the tables on the guy and is about to kill him when the guy pipes up that he knows where to find the gold of the Mad Max universe: fuel. From a mountain, they overlook a community that has managed to draw fuel from the ground, keeping it in a big tank. As Max watches, they are attacked by yet another motor gang—this time led by a massive shirtless dude named Humungus. During the fight one of the good guys is injured, and after the gang leaves Max goes and brings him to the community, on the condition that he gets as much fuel as he wants. The commune is skeptical of Max right away, but he’s got a deal with the guy he saved, and says to just ask him. But guess what—he’s dead from his injuries. So now Max is their prisoner. Eventually, they come around and Max helps them escape the gang by doing what he does best—driving a massive car that is hauling the gas tanker. Turns out the guy he didn’t kill in the beginning can fly a helicopter, and together they kill off the entire gang in an awesome continuous driving scene and head off into the sunset with the fuel in search of a better place to call home. Max doesn’t go with them, though. He heads off alone, never to be seen again. Until…
Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome
aka Memba This?
This installment starts out with Max doing Max things—namely being alone in the desert, somehow still surviving 15 years after the events of Road Warrior. He immediately gets his car ruined by the very same helicopter captain he saved in the last movie (he didn’t know it was Max, but still–what the hell man.) He then stumbles into a slumtown called Bartertown, where he is held prisoner. Things have really fallen apart since Road Warrior, and this place is basically every Occupy Wall Street member’s worst nightmare. The 1% is represented by Tina Turner’s “Auntie Entity,” who rules over the town from her ivory tower. She eventually recruits Max to kill her nemesis, the original Freak the Mighty combo called Master Blaster. They settle things as all men do—in the THUNDERDOME.
This movie spawned one of the most badass lines of all time for this part: “two men enter, one man leaves.” The ensuing Thunderdome fight scene was one of the coolest I’ve seen, with Max and Blaster strapped to bungee cords in a Hell-in-a-Cell type scenario, trying to get to various weapons at the top of the cage. Max wins (obviously) but then is banished because he doesn’t have the heart to kill Blaster, who is revealed to have the mind of a child. Back in the desert again, Max is picked up by a group of kids who are basically the Lost Boys from Peter Pan. In a very cult-like way, they tell Max they’ve been waiting for him, but he’s like, “no, I’m not the guy you’re lookin’ for.” Still, he develops a soft spot for the kids and helps them return to Bartertown and take down Tina Turner. The film ends with the helicopter captain flying the kids off to find a new home. Max sacrifices himself and stays behind, never to be seen again. UNTIL…
Mad Max 4: Fury Road
aka Is This a Sequel or…
Short answer: no, it’s not a sequel. Technically, it’s a reboot, but the director won’t call it either. Instead of good ol’ Melly Gibs, we get Tom Hardy, who at the beginning of the film is—yep, you guessed it—hanging out alone in the desert. He immediately gets kidnapped (yawn…standard ) by a motor gang called the Roadheads. They are loyal to Immortan Joe, a villain who is played by the same actor who played Toecutter in the original film.
Max ends up helping Joe’s right-hand woman, Furiosa, escape with six women that Joe is using as “breeders.” When they realize there is no home for them out in the desert, they turn back and take Joe’s stronghold, killing him and his men along the way. Once Max sees that they are safe in their new home, he slinks off into the desert alone, never to be seen again (until the sequel which is coming out next year).
- The two sons of Immortan Joe seem to be references to past characters—his one son Rictus is a massive shirtless guy, like Humungus from Road Warrior, and the other is a little person with a squeaky voice, like Master from Beyond Thunderdome.
- Furiosa and Max drive the “War Rig,” a big 18 wheeler that looks a lot like the tanker from Road Warrior.
- In Beyond Thunderdome, the leader of the Lost Boys is a strong, short-haired woman…just like Furiosa.
- Themes of “home.” In all of the movies, Max and the other characters are concerned with finding a new home—they are almost always unsuccessful in the previous films, but in this one they seem to have found it.
- Themes of family. Max loses his family in the first movie, and since then he can’t let himself get attached to one. But in all the films, he helps people find their own “families,” whether it be the community from Road Warrior, the Lost Boys in Thunderdome, or the women in Fury Road.
- Awesome car crashes.
*Answer key: the one on the right.
That about does it. If you’ve made it this far, I am SHOCKED. As a reward/apology here is a gif of a hamster eating a tiny burrito. More serious blog post to come tomorrow.