MAD MAX (1980)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 34 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

MadMax poster

Directed by: George Miller

Written by: George Miller & James McCausland

Starring: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Burne, Steve Bisley, Tim Burns & Roger Ward

With MAD MAX: FURY ROAD being touted as one of the biggest films of the upcoming summer movie season, I figured it was time for me to watch the series. Believe it or not, I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the MAD MAX series, but have never sat through one movie from beginning to end. This changed with my recent viewing of the dystopian action sensation that started it all. MAD MAX was released to much acclaim in its native Australia in 1979 and made its way to American shores the following year. The movie made a big impression as most modern post-apocalyptic stories usually take at least some inspiration from George Miller’s unique vision.

MadMax 1

Beginning with the title card of “A Few Years From Now…,” MAD MAX introduces us to a crumbling society. It’s dystopian in many ways, but civilized in peaceful communities still existing. However, violence is rampant in the form of violent psychopathic biker gangs. With these motorcycle-riding menaces on the road, only extremely violent police officers can saving the innocent. Max is an officer who’s becoming jaded to the chaos around him. After a particularly messy high-speed pursuit kills an insane biker named Nightrider, said biker’s friends come to town looking for the officer responsible for his death. Led by the vicious Toecutter, this group of violent lunatics cause general havoc on the streets. It’s up to Max to put a stop to them, but will he become corrupted in his pursuit of justice?

MadMax 2

The plot of MAD MAX feels very much like a superhero origin story crossed with a post-apocalyptic DEATH WISH and then mixed with a cop drama. It’s quite an interesting blend of genres and I can honestly say that I haven’t quite seen that specific cinematic combination before. Each different genre angle is great in its own way. The superhero origin tale nicely sets up a badass hero and makes me excited to catch up on the rest of the series. The post-apocalyptic vigilante angle isn’t necessarily taken for the whole movie, but slowly built up to for a finale that’s bound to keep you on the edge of your seat. Finally, I actually found the cop drama angle to be the most interesting of the three genres seen in MAD MAX. I really wasn’t expecting Max to have a family and be conflicted with his job (which can be dangerous to say the least) or spending time with his wife and child. This approach fleshed out the science-fiction action flick into something with more meat than just a well-executed film filled with car chases.

MadMax 3

Speaking of which, the car chases here are amazing. The stunts get your adrenaline pumping and actually made me question just how much courage the stuntmen had to have in order to brave certain moments in the film (multiple roll-overs, explosions, lots of car parts spread across the road). Mel Gibson brings a dark hero to the table in Max. He’s a badass through and through, with more than enough motivation for the viewer to root for him to come out on top. The villains are colorful and absurd (in a very good way). Toecutter is played with various quirks (changes in tone, little facial expressions, and a child-like attitude) that show just how insane he really is. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Joanne Samuel is a little wooden as Max’s wife. Her character isn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed and keeps making the same dumb decisions over and over again (one of which was mind-bogglingly ridiculous). Her decisions ultimately help move the plot forward, but I wish she had been better written.

MadMax 4

MAD MAX certainly wasn’t what I was initially expecting. It’s not car chases from beginning to end or a total dystopian action flick. Instead, this first film in the franchise blends various genres into an origin story that ultimately keeps going in crazier directions as it goes along. With a good hero who’s not afraid to get his hands dirty, crazy villains, an original combination of ideas, as well as some of the best car chases you’ll ever see in film, MAD MAX has solidified its spot in movie history. If you haven’t seen it already, check this one out!

Grade: A-

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