Mad Max (1979)
Mad Max is a flawed and occasionally impressive first directorial effort from George Miller. His ability to construct set pieces is the real highlight of the film. For example, the opening action scene combines subtle humour, a Western-style standoff between two cars and a Film Noir set up for the central character Max. The camera only reveals parts of him until we see a close up of his face at the pivotal moment during the chase. The sequence is also impeccably edited and constructed, feeling like a homage to silent cinema. Additionally, the film has intense horror sequences that are indicative of the period. The movie at times feels like it is directly channelling pictures like the Last House on the Left and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
As for Mel Gibson’s first on-screen performance, he has a magnetic and indelible screen presence. Additionally, in the final act of the film, he plays driven and unhinged convincingly. The latter, in particular, would be a signature strength of his appeal as an actor. However, he is less believable during the dramatic scenes with his wife, looking uncomfortable and out of his element. This mainly hurts one speech he has to deliver during the middle of the film, which feels like the director’s admiration for the John Wayne type of a man and hero.
The central flaw of the film comes from one of the conceits of the screenplay. During a conversation with his boss, Max says that he fears that he is becoming like the criminals he is chasing, which comes from the sheer enjoyment of his job. However, we never see this occur elsewhere in the story at all. The closest that we reach is when Max first sees his custom black car. It is a gaping hole in the film that makes the central theme and story lack potency. Additionally, there is lip service paid to Max’s boss being an idealistic man and believing in heroes, but this is never developed.
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior is the best sequel in genre cinema and a masterclass in apocalyptic world building and madcap vision. Though your level of tolerance will vary, based on the ascetic that director George Miller has for his view of the future.
There is a lot to admire in the film. Whether it is the charming moments between characters that can last mere seconds. Or the virtuoso filmmaking that is best encapsulated in the finale. It synthesises the concept of a Western on wheels with Carmageddon thrills.
However, the best element of the picture is that Miller has mostly taken a simple story of revenge and has now elevated it into the realm of the mythical and western. This results in an entirely different beast from its predecessor. The Road Warrior, snarls, clonks and roars throughout its ninety-minute runtime, and what a glorious sound and result it makes. A true classic.
Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
Despite some quite apparent jarring tonal shifts throughout its running time, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome adds enough to its central character and universe. Max’s main journey turns him from a silent mythological figure into a fabled defender of the younger generation. Barter Town provides George Millar’s post-apocalyptic vision with a sense of place, history and archaic societal structure. The lost boys esque group of young children that Max encounters is the closest that the original films will come to exploring religion. And the last twenty minutes of the film delivers some great and exciting car chases in the vein of its predecessors.