So I’ve previously gushed all over Mad Max: Fury Road in this very blog, we’ve talked about it pretty extensively over on 9ES, and we even shoehorned it pretty hard into our Go Plug Yourself with Amy Blackmore. I’ve also seen the original Mad Max a bunch, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior several times, and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome enough to have bad memories of it. The originals were a little foggy though, so for sake of completion, I went back and rewatched the original 3 films. In what I promise you will be one of the last times we talk about Mad Max until the invevitable sequel to Fury Road comes out, I will now talk about those experiences.


MadMazAusMad Max (1979):

Overview: The one that started it all. Made for the relatively low budget of around $400,000 Australian Dollars (about 350k USD at the time) it tells a pretty simple story of a cop pushed to the limits of the law by a roaming murderous biker gang who eventually snaps and goes full vigilante. Seems pretty typical in terms of your late 70s/early 80s exploitation movie. We’re introduced to Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) who seems to pretty much be a regular cop who’s a pretty good driver with nerves of steel. He plays chicken with a guy named Nightrider in one of the first action scenes of the movie in what will become a common occurrence throughout the rest of the movies (predating the similarly named “Knight Rider” by 3 years). Seriously, he plays chicken at least once a film. When Max and his cop friend Goose (predating Top Gun by 7 years) manage to arrest gang member Johnny the Boy and try him for rape, nobody shows up to testify and Johnny goes free. Max gets fed up with the limitations of being a cop and wants to leave the Main Force Police (MFP), but the Captain instead convinces him to go on vacation. On vacation, the gang (led by Toecutter, played by Hugh Keays-Byrne who would go on to play Immortan Joe in Fury Road) kills Max’s wife and their son Sprog (great name, although, apparently not a name at all, but an Australian slang for child, thanks to redditor /u/nemothorx for the clarification). Max fully snaps, takes out the rest of the gang and the wanders into the Outback/Wasteland.

First of all, I know what you’re thinking. Cops, trials, vacations… isn’t Mad Max a post-apocalyptic series? Yes, sort of. The original Mad Max seems to take place at a point in time where there’s been some sort of terrible global war that just wasn’t devastating enough to really have that much of an impact on Australia. Like, it’s a more violent/extreme place but they’re still doing their best to cling to civilization. They’ve still got televisions and radios and as I mentioned, cops and courthouses. This film seems to take place in really the first few months or years following a pretty serious apocalypse that Australia was only spared from due to its non-value as a military target. So maybe this could be viewed as semi-post-apocalyptic? Or something.

Why You Should Watch It: If you enjoyed Fury Road, it’s cool to see the proto-version of George Miller’s cinematic style. Even in this low budget film there’s a lot of cool stuff that Miller tests out. The stunts are all practical and lots of cars get wrecked and explode in pretty cool style. You can sort of tell that Miller really likes shooting action sequences and he already has a great eye for it. Quick cuts, extreme closeups of the actors, that infamous scene where Toecutter’s eyes pop out of his head, it’s all in here. It plays as good as any car/revenge action genre movie of the same time period and also serves as the building block for the rest of the series. It’s also sort of cool to see the origin story for Max himself, to see when he was more of a dude and less of a complete psycho. I’d say worth it overall.

Why You Could Skip It: Honestly, it’s probably the slowest of the three original movies. Lots of dialogue and filler in a way that the other movies just don’t have. It’s kind of weird to see the guy who will become Mad Max going on a little vacation with his family. There’s plenty of YouTube videos that will give you a rundown of the movie and show you most of the cool parts of the action scenes too. In fact, if you’re going to watch Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior instead of Mad Max there’s a recap of this movie during the credits so you can probably just watch that.

Best Mad Max Names:
The Toecutter
Johnny The Boy

Mad_max_two_the_road_warriorMad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)

Overview: The movie opens up with a car chase and Max, now looking like he’s spent a long time driving around in the wasteland is already in a car chase. One of the guys chasing him is Wez, who has a wrist mounted crossbow and a blonde pretty-boy chained to the back of his motorcycle. Max kills a few of the bad guys, establishing himself as enough of a badass to scare the rest of them off. He’s short on fuel, tries to get gas from a gyrocopter, meets a guy known only as The Gyro Captain who tells him about a place that has all the fuel he could want. TUrns out that place is a small oil refinery and does have a lot of fuel, but is constantly under siege by the Lord Humungus and his gang (which includes Wez). Oh yeah, there’s a weird little animal boy referred to as “Feral Kid” who is deadly with a boomerang blade. Long story short, Max eventually ends up helping the people that live at the refinery to escape with their fuel and get away from Humungus. The third act involves an extended chase scene between a gang of Wasteland bad guys and a big rig tanker truck. Max (of course) plays chicken with Lord Humungus and neither of them lose their nerve so they just smash into each other. Max wanders out into the Outback/Wasteland.

The opening credit sequence helps establish a little more about the global energy crisis/war that fell upon the world. Apparently it was a war mostly over fuel and ultimately ended up bombing the shit out of all the “great tribes” (aka, major cities I am guessing). The refinery people have a plan to head thousands of miles North to some sort of civilization and judging from the old man narrator (who is revealed to be the grown up Feral Kid) being alive and well, they actually succeed.

Why You Should Watch It: The third act truck based action sequence really plays like an early 80s version of most of the action of Fury Road. There’s people hopping off and on vehicles, fighting each other, cars flipping and exploding all over the place and has that added element of danger when you realize this was all filmed in the 80s in a very unregulated Australia. It is the most like Fury Road in that there’s not very much dialogue and Max himself hardly says anything. Honestly, of the three original movies this is probably the best of the bunch. If you only see one, see this one.

Why Could Skip It: Lots of the dialogue that is in the film is pretty incomprehensible, particularly the ramblings of the Gyro Captain. I’m usually pretty good with accents but some of his lines were rough. Also, there’s not a lot of action outside of the opening sequence and the climactic finale, you could probably skip ahead to the truck scene and you really wouldn’t miss too much. If you’re interested in going back to check out an older Mad Max film because you enjoyed Fury Road though, this is really the one you should watch.

Best Mad Max Names:
Lord Humungus
The Golden Youth
Warrior Woman

Mad_max_beyond_thunderdomeMad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)

Overview: The film starts off with a pack of camels pulling a car through the desert. A plane (piloted by the same actor as the Gyro Captain but not the same character) attacks the car and steals the vehicle and the camels. Naturally, the man attacked was Max (although he never says his name at all in the film, telling people he’s “nobody”) who then follows the trail to Bartertown which is run by Tina Turner as Aunty Entity and a little man named Master riding a big man named Blaster. He makes a deal with Tina Turner to kill Blaster in the death sport of Thunderdome, but then can’t do it when he finds out that Blaster is mentally handicapped. Tina Turner kills Blaster anyways. Max gets exiled and rescued by Savannah Nix and is brought to an oasis full of children who are convinced that a guy who looks like Max (they have a painting of a guy who looks an awful lot like Max) is going to lead them to civilization. Interestingly, according to Miller Thunderdome takes place about 15 years after Road Warrior, so maybe those kids have that painting because he’s already a bit of a legend. Anyways, Savannah Nix takes off in the middle of the night, Max goes after her, they end up back at Bartertown to rescue Master (who’s now a slave without Blaster as his muscle) since Master is an engineer or something and can help the kids. There’s a big action sequence at the end where Tina Turner’s big desert gang chases after Max and the kids while they’re in a big truck/train thing. Guess what? One of the bad guys basically plays chicken with the truck/train (which is particularly stupid since it’s on rails, so guess how that turns out). The pilot guy from the beginning rescues the kids and takes them to the bombed out remains of Sydney. Max gets left in the desert to wander the Outback/Wasteland.

Does all that sound a little busy/convoluted? That’s because it is. This is probably the weakest of the series. It does manage to add a little more to the world though in that it establishes that at some point nuclear bombs were dropped in the wars. It introduces radiation and fallout into the world that wasn’t a part of the first two movies (but would become integral to the sick and seemingly cancerous characters of Fury Road).

Why You Should Watch It: Honestly, in my head this movie was much worse than it actually was. The whole sequence in Bartertown and the Thunderdome fight with Blaster are very cool and interesting to watch. It also has some of the best costume and design elements of the three original films. It sets up a lot of tropes of the post apocalyptic genre and has some classic moments (“Two men enter, one man leaves.”) It holds up as a pretty good (if much goofier than the first 2) apocalyptic genre film.

Why You Could Skip It: I don’t know if it’s because there were so many kids in the cast or what, but once the kids show up this really becomes a kids movie. The action scenes involving the kids play out like they could be from the film Hook or something, complete with zany escapes down slides, bad guys falling into vats of poop and even slapstick hits with a frying pan. It’s all sort of the worst. Even the climactic chase at the end pales in comparison to the finale of Road Warrior. The first two movies had serious violence and consequences, in Thunderdome you get some kids and some slapstick. Even one of the main henchman dodges death constantly in what should be deadly situations. I cannot stress enough, it basically becomes a kids movie the moment kids show up. You can more or less stop watching the movie once Mad Max gets exiled from Bartertown.

Best Mad Max Names:
Savannah Nix
Pig Killer
Dr. Dealgood
Slake M’Thirst

So, what have we learned? The first two movies are good, the second one is the best and Thunderdome, while not quite the shitshow it was in my mind, is pretty bad.
The more you know I guess.

Keith does all sorts of things here on, he works with the other founders on 9to5 (illustrated), co-hosts our two podcasts: The 9to5 Entertainment System and Go Plug Yourself and blogs here as The Perspicacious Geek.

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