"Mad Max" Rides High Review

As Mad Max: Fury Road stuns audiences with its virtuoso rock-opera intensity, it’s worth the uninitiated taking a time warp back to 1979, when franchise mastermind George Miller first introduced the world to the grim, uncompromising post-apocalyptic dystopia of the Australian New Wave. Made for a slim budget of under $400k AUD, the film went on to gross a staggering $100m worldwide, launch a global cult following, and single-handedly launch one of Hollywood’s most profitable actors and directors, Mel Gibson. So put the anti-Semitism and drunken tirades on the shelf, buckle up, and hit the throttle back to the breakout performance and merciless film that redefined the very landscape of independent and, ultimately, Hollywood cinema.

Max Rockatansky (Gibson) is a fearless street cop patrolling the parched roads of the endless Australian expanse, standing in for an undefined scorched futuristic landscape. Together with his pal Goose (Steve Bisley) and burly chief Fifi (Roger Ward), Max tries to hold a crumbling world together with fast cars, blazing guns, and steely cool. On the other side of the shaky line of the law, is the slimy Nightrider (Vincent Gil) and his perverse posse of sickos and freaks, including the sadistic Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne). When the motorcycle gang rapes a young couple, the cops might finally have gang member Johnny Boy on the ropes, until no one shows for the trial and he tauntingly goes free. The gang exacts a cruel revenge on the law, then goes too far tracking Max’s own family to a seaside vacation. Unveiling the franchise’s trophy vehicle, the supercharged V-8 Police Special, Max tears up the roads on one of film’s most ruthless revenge streaks.

The ‘70s was a difficult decade for America, with the unending conflict in Vietnam and the 1973 has crisis that had cars lined for miles to desperately pull a dribbling stream of overpriced crude from the beleaguered pumps. In hindsight, 1979 was the perfect cultural moment for the hopeless, violent world of Mad Max to engulf the screen. Drawing on his own first-hand experience with car wrecks and disturbing brutality seen during his time as a doctor in a hospital ER, Miller was unflinching in his depiction of the savagery of his high-octane, no holds barred, car crash ridden epic. Until 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, Mad Max held the record for highest budget-to-gross ratio, making it the high water mark of successful independent commercial filmmaking. Two years later, Mel Gibson officially solidified himself on the global scene, reteaming with Miller for Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior on the heels of working with another great master, Peter Weir, on the harrowing Gallipoli, then going around the hedonistic Miller wheel one more time with Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome in 1985. The next film he did was Lethal Weapon and the rest, as they say, is history. Eleven years after his final turn as the leather clad, leg-braced avenger, roaring across the Outback in his supped up Special with a faithful hound at his feet, Gibson would take the Academy stage and accept Best Picture and Director Oscars for Braveheart. Miller would answer him back with a Best Animated Film Oscar in 2007 for Happy Feet.

Needless to say, Mad Max’s success forever shifted Hollywood, introducing two of the greatest modern creators. Fury Road has had thirty years to incubate, and the result is worth the wait. Brilliantly crafted as one extended chase sequence, the film captures a breathtaking vision meticulously crafted that separates the true visionaries of film from those who simply direct. The Mad Max franchise has had the rare advantage of being helmed entirely by George Miller, created a consistent tapestry that connects and interlocks all the separate films to each other. While Fury Road will be the first descent into the apocalyptic Outback for a new generation of fans, the diehards will rejoice at Mad Max’s bulge-eyed Toecutter’s death in the opening montage, Road Warrior’s music box and the trophy break-action shotgun. Never has the end of times been such a stunning collage of vibrancy and adrenaline. Miller of 2015 proved himself to be every bit as savvy as the young innovator in 1979, shifting focus from old-school, 20th century testosterone-driven antihero in Tom Hardy’s stoic Max to a full-fledged, who-needs-men feminist action hero for the 21st century in Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa. Eva Green was equally emancipated as the ruthless Artemisia in 300: Rise of an Empire and the shift towards truly story women is refreshing to the say the least. Miller has, with Fury Road, put himself in the same small category with the likes of James Cameron and Avatar, creating a full and vivid filmic world that leaves all other directors dumbly in his gasoline-laden dust. But Mad Max, like Cameron’s breakout The Terminator, is the gritty, youthful, independent beginning that everything since was built from. Funnily enough, Cameron cites Mad Max as one of his great influences, and that says something.

BLU-RAY BONUS FEATURES

Interviews, commentary, Mel Gibson: The Birth of a Superstar, Mad Max: The Film Phenomenon, trailers and spots, and photos.

"Mad Max" is on sale May 5, 2015 and is rated R. Action, Drama, Sci-Fi. Directed by George Miller. Written by James McCausland & George Miller. Starring Mel Gibson.

Jul
12
2015
Kyle North • Staff Writer

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