Review of Mad Max
On Monday night, I finally watched the first film in the Mad Max trilogy, Mad Max. I had wanted to watch the film for years, but could never find it on television. And usually, there seems to be a preference for The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome. Having watched the second and third films first, and after watching this original entry, I have to say that Mad Max is far and away the best of the trilogy (indeed, the other two entries come off as more exaggerated versions of the same basic narrative).
Mad Max is about a young MFP (Main Force Patrol) officer in a dystopian post oil Australia. He is one of the best officers, but burns out after a recurring motorcycle gang lays a trap for a fellow officer. Convinced to take a vacation, he takes his family (wife and toddler son) to a farm. Unfortunately, the same gang is nearby and tries to molest Jess (Max’s wife). Enraged, the gang tracks them down to the farm and kills Jess and the baby. Furious, Max steals a new type of pursuit car and ruthlessly takes out the gang.
This film is awesome in a number of ways, mainly the character of Max Rockatansky, the visual depiction of a dystopian Australia, and the subtle world building. There are also a few issues I have with the film, namely the civil authority and the gang led by the Toecutter.
In many ways, the film works because of the character of Max Rockatansky. A young but gifted pursuit officer, Max does not initially allow the collapse of law and order to affect him. He is happily married, enjoys his job and his friends, and is well-respected. But the true power of the character comes as he is forced to transform into the character of “Mad Max” that he is in the later films. Here, it is the believable need for revenge that develops an emotional punch given to the viewer. Despite what Mel Gibson has become, he is very good in the role of Max.
Given the era, I have to say that the visuals are quite well done. I can appreciate a more dated look to the visuals. And I think that look is necessary here. The scenes on the road, the area near the farm, the town, and urban scenes are all well shot and deliver the necessary emotional look. The lonely road scenes give a perception of loneliness, desperation, fear, and excitement. The farm gives a sense of dread and fear. The town gives a sense of desperation, fear, and decay. And the city itself is the place where it all seems to come apart. In my opinion, amazing and beautiful.
The world building is well done as well. I like the fact that the viewer is not completely sure why Australia has collapsed. It is subtle and completely believable. It looks to be shortly after the collapse, but before the world falls completely apart with the successor films.
My biggest problem with the film is actually the antagonists. While more believable than the second and third films, the antagonists in this film share many of the same problems. The gang is depicted as having gone berserk or insane after the collapse, but they do not share any similarities to the biker gangs that I am familiar with. While I do not know much of Australian organized crime or equivalents to biker gangs, I am familiar with the American version from Gangland (on the History Channel). And the gang of the Nightrider and the Toecutter are not what one would call a biker gang. Admittedly, I think the film’s directors and screenwriters were trying to merge other influences in with the gang. For one thing, fears of chaotic young people and bikers in general. But I also think there is a homophobic context as well. The gang seems to be generally bisexual as a heterosexual couple are implied to have been raped (I watched the film on AMC, so I don’t know what they edited out), Jess was lusted over, and there is some question as to what happened between one of the young townsmen and several members of the gang. There is also the ambiguous relationship between Toecutter and Bubba that could be read as sexual. And don’t forget the makeup. This is one part of the film that I disliked strongly.
Another problematic element is the civil authority. Given the circumstances, Australia should be a police state, but I am assuming the film is depicting a right-wing fantasy in which civil authority is weak.
I had originally planned on reviewing all of the Mad Max films, but I only watched The Road Warrior after Mad Max. I missed Beyond Thunderdome because of a three-hour Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood marathon on my computer. So I won’t be reviewing the other two films.