What’s odd is that for a boy with such a borderline-fetishistic devotion to a movie hero, I couldn’t have cared less about his origins. I had seen The Road Warrior on VHS at a friend’s house, but had never really wanted to go back and rent Mad Max. My best guess is that I had seen a preview for it, or at least the VHS box cover, and was disappointed. For my tastes, it didn’t look post-apocalyptic enough...Max’s wardrobe that is. It was still a neat and clean looking leather cop outfit, not the hastily assembled odds and ends of his Road Warrior outfit I had come to know and love. And wait a minute, am I reading this right? Max is a cop? With a wife? Not to mention, a kid??! This didn’t gel at all with the Road Warrior I had come to idolize, a sort of “Man With No Name” trolling the apocalyptic wasteland shooting baddies and looking for gas. My “Max” didn’t have a past, nor did I want him to. Just that great outfit, the bitchin’ car, and a mangy dog with fleas.
Well, after watching Mad Max last night, I think I can safely say my childhood instincts served me well. I STILL don’t want to know his origins-- they're boring, the standard movie cop motivations. Good highway cop just trying to do his job until his partner gets killed by a group of biker baddies, then his wife and his kid. And this doesn’t even happen until the end of the movie. Honestly, Max isn’t even really that “mad” until the last few frames. Just well-dressed.
Sure, there are a lot of great crash and chase sequences. These after all are what made the George Miller trilogy a classic -- he cuts action with brutal, in-your-face precision. But when you strip away the action, the post-Mad Max apocalyptic settings (i.e., Road Warrior highways and Thunderdome), and those great rag-tag wardrobes, all you really have is a standard biker movie in drag with a Death Wish twist.
Plus, Max is not as smart in this movie. He keeps letting his wife and kid take the car down the road by themselves or leaves them behind with an 82 year old grandmother when a horde of biker bandits are on the loose. Obviously, Miller’s doing this to milk the suspense of when the wife and kid are going to buy it, but ultimately it serves to weaken the Max character which, for me, is the whole reason for being there in the first place.
Mad Max is one of those rare cases where the sequel truly outshines the original. Shit, even Beyond Thunderdome was better.