If you could only watch one film to prepare for the premiere of Mad Max: Fury Road, make it Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. Released in 1981 just two short years after the original, Road Warrior remains the most iconic film of the franchise. Though the sillier elements from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome have been more persistent in the world of pop culture references, The Road Warrior represents Mad Max in its purest form and set the standard for post apocalyptic movies for decades to come.
Scarcity of fuel has driven nations to war and ruin, and the remnants of humanity have banded together into small tribes to fight and scavenge in the desolate wastelands of Australia. Mel Gibson returns as Max Rockatansky, former Main Force Patrol officer who now roams the desert in search of food and fuel. He’s the Australian, post apocalyptic answer to the stoic heroes in Western films or the wandering ronin of Japanese cinema.
The opening montage sets the stage and also recaps the first film.
Indeed, the film very much follows the archetypal “wandering hero” story. Max eventually comes across a gyro captain, who leads him to a small, still operational oil refinery. The occupants are besieged by a band of marauders led by Lord Humungus (anyone unfamiliar with the films will still likely recognize the lasting influence of costume designer Norma Moriceau’s work–punk-ish mohawks and armor cobbled together from bondage leather and sporting equipment). Max manages to make his way into the settlement and offers to help them recover a truck to haul their tanker in exchange for fuel and supplies. When he fulfills his end of the bargain but his own attempt to outrun the bandits fails, he instead volunteers to help the settlers break the siege and escape by driving the tanker.
The film is filled with great action sequences, but the final chase between Max’s tanker and the marauders is the most iconic. The fifteen minute finale is much more than a car chase–it’s a brutal, thrilling spectacle more reminiscent of classic film chariot battles or stagecoach heists.
The sequel improves upon the original in almost every regard. The script is more concise and cohesive, the action is tense and spectacular, and the characters are unique and memorable. The bleakness of the apocalypse is balanced, but not undermined, by a healthy dose of insanity and dry humor. It’s a vibrant, violent depiction of the world’s descent into madness.
What’s there not to love about this?