A Sci-Fi Honey Retrospective Review

The Mad Max Trilogy

This weekend we’re all going a little mad for a massive movie opening in cinemas around the globe: the fourth installment of George Miller’s cuckoo dystopian series, Mad Max. In the latest offering, subtitled Fury Road, Tom Hardy takes on Mel Gibson’s role of Max Rockatansky: a world-weary former cop who battles outback road punks on dusty, crime-ridden highways in rural Australia. Miller’s first collaboration with Gibson in the lead role – back when Gibson was an unknown and before he became the pariah that he is today – stretches back almost four decades, when the original went on to become the most profitable film ever made until The Blair Witch Project broke its record in 1999. Fury Road may be breaking a few box office records of its own this weekend, but before we join Hardy and Charlize Theron for the ride, let’s take a look at the madcap trilogy that started it all…

Mad Max (1979)

Picture what a Mad Max movie looks like in your mind: are you thinking of garish 80s-tastic hair and makeup, wild costumes bordering on fetish attire, and eccentric villains cruising vast stretches of desert in their souped-up kill machines? If so, it’s likely not this first film that’s on your mind – a film that has very little to do with the overarching story or aesthetic of what the world of Mad Max evolved into as the trilogy went on. Long before Max was doomed to wander the Australian wasteland, he was a doting family man and sworn officer of the law, doing his best to keep crooked thugs from spreading anarchy in a near-future version of a swiftly decaying civilized society. When a depraved motorcycle gang takes his partner, wife, and son, Max begins his descent into the state of ‘madness’ referenced in the title – slaughtering all involved with these heinous acts in a calculated revenge-fueled rage. 

The primary action of the film is set on wide-open highways, where anything goes if you’ve got the most killer form of transportation. Even though this was standard for pre-CG era, Miller’s affinity for stunt-based action made for some thrilling car chases, crashes, and explosions galore – something he’s carried on in his work to this day, where the stunts are so expertly pulled off that it often looks like people are actually getting hurt (or killed) in the process. Despite some effective action sequences, the first film is considerably dated, sluggishly paced, and visibly limited by its modest budget. While it sets us up nicely for the much-improved sequel, Miller’s first Mad Max doesn’t have much else going for it in retrospect.

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Two-and-a-half Toecutters out of five.

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)

Now that’s what I’m talking about. The second (and in my opinion, best) entry in the series takes place a few years after the first, when a fuel crisis has sparked a global war and destroyed any semblance of systematized law and order. Max and his canine pal scavenge the barren landscape seeking fuel and supplies to carry on, when they encounter yet another gang of roving criminals. Led by a baddie known as ‘The Humungous,' the gang seeks to steal fuel from a local refinery inhabited by a well-fortified commune. After a series of skirmishes and captures, Max is compelled to help the community escape with their fuel cache in tow – in exchange, of course, for enough in return to resume his nomadic existence on the road. 

The Road Warrior greatly expands the universe of the first film and introduces some of the more quirky and memorable personalities of the series: a goofball Gyro pilot and a feral child with some lethal boomerang skills. Combine this film’s greater depth of character with its more elaborate chase sequences, and it’s clear that Miller and co. have upped their game on every level to achieve a near-perfect action saga from start to finish.

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Four-and-a-half killer boomerangs out of five.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)

By the time we reach this further expansion of Miller’s dystopia, it’s obvious that the filmmaker himself may have finally gone a little mad as well. Set fifteen years after the events of The Road Warrior, when life in the outback has gotten considerably worse, Thunderdome finds our hero stumbling into a dodgy pseudo-community known as Bartertown. Bartertown is powered by pig poop and ruled by Tina Turner and a dwarf sitting on top of a giant known as Master/Blaster. Are you still with me? Good, because it only gets nuttier from there: Max has to battle Master/Blaster in a cage of death known as Thunderdome, and is exiled to the desert to meet some Lord of the Flies children seeking a mythical place known as “Tomorrow-Morrow-Land.” 

Insanity of the general plot aside, the film remains a guilty pleasure for post-apocalyptic adventure aficionados who get enjoyment from watching movies like Waterworld, which this film clearly inspired. By no means a great film, Thunderdome does have something of value: enough kitsch to eclipse the first two Mad Max films by a mile in terms of cult classic status alone. Also, an awesome song by Tina Turner.

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Three Master/Blasters out of five.

What will Fury Road bring? Check out my forthcoming review after opening weekend and let me know what you think on Twitter!