Saturday, April 23, 2016

Movies: A Mad Max retrospective

For no reason in particular, I recently watched all four Mad Max movies, starting with the original "Mad Max" from 1979 and ending with 2015's multiple-Academy Award-winning "Fury Road." Which vehicular vision reigns supreme? Read on...

Mad Max

In the first movie, Max is a hotshot police officer working in a dystopian (but not post-apocalyptic) future. He's got buddies in the department, a chief who rides him hard, and he's a loving husband and father. When events put him into conflict with a vicious highway gang, he'll have to take justice into his own hands.

There are numerous cult film series where the original movie is arguably the best one, even though it lacks the pyrotechnics or plotting of later entries ("Night of the Living Dead," "The Evil Dead," etc.). Unfortunately, this is not the case with "Mad Max." While the film introduces some of the elements that would make the rest of the series memorable (high-speed chase scenes, struggles with wackily-dressed gangs, a sly sense of Australian humor), the pacing is so uneven and slow that I think most people would struggle to finish it, especially those hoping for the madcap action of later installments.

Rating: 5/10

Mad Max 2 (The Road Warrior)

The second film picks up years after the original, after a global oil shortage and nuclear war decimate humanity and reduce the Outback to the familiar wasteland that we associate with the Mad Max movies. Max is a drifter who happens upon a group of survivors living in an oil refinery and set upon by the villainous Lord Humungus.

This is the movie that cemented Mad Max's legacy, and the one that everyone remembers. Countless other post-apocalyptic films have parodied or referenced it, but few match its mix of hypnotic intensity and endearing characters. The final highway chase pitting the survivors' tanker truck against Humungus' gang remains one of the best action scenes ever filmed:

Rating: 9/10

Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome

In this one, Max's wanderings take him to Bartertown, home of a struggle between two semi-corrupt rulers, the conniving Aunty and the cruel Master Blaster. He'll serve as a pawn in their power game, as well as a leader of a small band of plucky survivors left behind from a plane crash.

"Thunderdome" is an okay movie, with three main highlights: (1) the titular arena, in which two men enter but one man leaves; (2) the final chase scene, which is a still-good-but-watered-down version of the chase from the second movie, and (3) the Tina Turner song "We Don't Need Another Hero"...

Rating: 7/10

Mad Max: Fury Road

I actually saw "Fury Road" for the first time in doing this retrospective, and, overall, I think it slots in comfortably with the rest of the series. It at times plays a little too much like a remix of the second and third movies, and Tom Hardy's Max feels like a secondary character in his own movie, but it's hard for me to knock anything that has a flamethrowing guitar:

Rating: 8/10


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