Monday, May 18, 2015

MAD MAX (1979) - George Miller

The original 1979 Mad Max was one of my first reviews on this humble blog nearly a decade ago. I may have been a little harsh back then, but watching it again last week in prep for Fury Road my feelings have generally remained the same. Max (as played by a fresh-faced Mel Gibson) is not a very compelling character for most of the movie. He is not yet "Mad." As with many a revenge flick, it's only when his wife and child are murdered by a gang of biker baddies that he becomes driven, haunted and somewhat interesting to watch. Problem is, this doesn't happen until the last 20 minutes of the film.

Prior to that, Max is mostly boilerplate, a good cop in a bad, bad land with above average driving skills. The land is bad but not yet ROAD WARRIOR BAD. The car he drives has more personality. And that leather's just too damn clean! Watching it again, I was more interested in Max's partner, Goose, who comes across as a savvier cop-cum-raconteur, sort of a Han Solo to Gibson's Skywalker. The film even departs Max's storyline to follow Goose for a stretch in the middle, as if the movie itself grew bored of a Max-Not-Yet-Mad.

Goose gets cooked in a suspenseful fiery car blaze, giving Max more reasons for vengeance. It's here, in the final stretch, Mad Max finally picks up speed. The scene where Max's young son runs onto a highway zipping with muscle cars is truly terrifying, sure to send any parent's stomach straight into their throats. It's also a sign of things to come for the series, the fact that director George Miller has no qualms about putting children in mortal danger (see The Feral Kid in Road Warrior, see plane-crash kids in Thunderdome).

As for the baddies, Toecutter and his gang of biker trash? Other than being Aussie, they're not too far removed from your average '70s AIP/Roger Corman "bad biker gang." They're serviceable catalysts for mayhem. Great at hissing into the camera. Very dependable roadkill when you need to mow someone down with a Mac truck.

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