Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Mad Max (1979, Movie Review)

      So, there’s going to be a new Mad Max movie in summer 2015, because things are all about reboots of popular franchises now days right. Well, as annoying as the constant reboots and remakes get, this one doesn’t bother me too much. First of all, it’s being done by George Miller, the exact same director, writer and producer of the original. Second, and in all honesty, I never really liked the 1979 Sci-Fi classic “Mad Max” starring Mel Gibson. It had its highlights to be sure, and was a big influence on films at the time, but I don’t think it’s aged well as a truly great classic. The sequel “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior” certainly has, but I’m just looking at the first film to see how much of it really holds up. This is all subject to personal opinion obviously, so if you’re one of the many people that liked this film, good for you, I’m glad you enjoyed this, but personally, I just never cared for it.

         Our movie is set in Australia, in an un-labeled, not to distant dystopian future. Most of the Outback has been reduced to low-populated communities with minimal fuel and small towns, but many people seem to be living peacefully. The only problem is a gang of psychotic motorcycle riding serial killers called The Acolytes who dominate the streets and terrorize all innocent civilians in their path. The only thing that stands in their way is the Main Force Patrol, which is all that remains of law and justice in the country. The best man on the job is none other than Mad Max, who always cleans up the street. One day he goes too far and kills one of the lead gang members, to which the Acolytes respond to with vengeance. Soon officers of the MAP are becoming targets and Max himself gets it the worst as the gang members kill his wife and infant child. Full and rage and vengeance, Max takes to the street as the Road Warrior to hunt down and eliminate the Acolytes once and for all.

    That may sound like a short synopsis of the film, but surprise ... it’s actually the bulk of the movie. Max doesn’t even suit up to take vengeance until the final 15 minutes or so of the film. It actually feels more like a pilot episode for a TV series that never happened. The majority of the movie spends most of its time with the villains doing their awful and curl acts to innocent people, while building up to Max’s inevitable tragedy that turns him into the Road Warrior. But like I said, that doesn’t last long and the film kind of montages its way through Max’s actual vengeance. Now there are some highlights here and there, the slow build up to the demise of Max’s family was pulled off very effectively and there’s obviously some cool stunt work.

      The best scene of all is the opening car chase, which puts you in the mindset that you’re going to be watching a fast paced thrill ride of a movie. No joke, the car crashes and driving choreography in this opening is a real spectacle and it’s shot beautifully. While it may seem a touch generic by today’s standards, it was still an impressive feat of over the top stunt work and vehicle destruction for its time. Too bad there really aren’t too many note worth action scenes after this. The opening chase also serves as a great introduction to our main character as he spends most of the time acting all chill while listening to the chase progress on his radio. Then when everyone else fails to do their jobs, Max goes out riding to get the job done, which is easily his most bad ass moment of the film.

     I suppose I should talk about the character himself, who quickly became the archetype for most action characters of this sort. Max is a guy who questions his humanity and fears that he’s becoming too much like the villains he’s battling, unfortunately, the issue isn’t brought up much, and once he becomes the Road Warrior, he pretty much just throws all humanity out the window and becomes a vengeful psycho path. It’s a formula that I just find all too familiar and conveyed more effectively in other popular characters. Aside from the opening scene, I honestly didn’t even find Max to be that much of a bad ass, at least until the sequels. He’s played by a now unrecognizable Mel Gibson, back when he was a young and more respected actor. He plays the role of Max well, but he doesn’t leave that much of an impression either. I think it was more the novelty of the film that made this a highlight in his carrier, rather than a stirring performance that deserves acclaim.  

      I will say that Director George Miller is on top of his craft when directing this film. He definitely knows how to shoot a car chase, as well as create an uncomfortable atmosphere for this dystopian setting. Aside from all the “Mad Max” sequels, George Miller is best known for directing and writing family movies like “Happy Feet” and “Babe”, which is personally one of my favorite childhood gems of all time, so he’s undeniably a talented and versatile filmmaker. I also have to admire the subtlety of this apocalyptic future the film creates. Most movies with this type of setting go all out with demolished cities, and fields of dead bodies with rows of skulls everywhere, but this film is very different. In fact, it’s probably the cleanest and tidiest looking apocalyptic future ever captured on film, heck it doesn’t even feel like a Sci-Fi. If you just caught a glimpse of this film on TV, you’d probably just assume it takes place in some generic outback area instead of a dystopian future.   

      Whenever I review a critically acclaimed film like this, I always do my best to point out the positives, but unfortunately, I have far more negatives that really way the movie down. I obviously don’t care for the structure of the plot, and there’s very little about the overall experience that makes it worthwhile. Other films like “Robocop”, “The Terminator” and “Die Hard” have their fair share of over the top violence and action bonanzas, but I also feel like there’s more substance to those films that balance everything out, as well as more strait forward entertainment. I can’t stand the villains in this movie, while the Acolytes are functional as threatening bad guys, there also way too over the top and cartoony for the films own good. I also really hate the ending, which just seems to stop the movie on a dime. Seriously, after montage-ing its way through the climax, the film comes to a sudden stop that always leaves me wondering what the heck I just sat through.   

      In 1981, there was a sequel titled “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior”, and this film was excellent. This is the movie that always came to mind when I thought of Mad Max, because it further explored the character and the apocalyptic setting actually felt like an apocalyptic setting. The characters were more memorable, the story was much stronger, and the action scenes involving vehicle destruction were nothing short of awesome. The movie actually begins with a recap of the first film and highlights all the best parts, so you can actually just skip the first film and go right to the sequel without missing anything, at least that’s what I’d recommend doing. Then in 1985 there was another sequel titled “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”, which wasn’t quite as good as its predecessor, but still a worthy follow up and a fitting conclusion to the series. Of course there’s going to be the new film titled “Mad Max: Fury Road” in 2015, which has some potential, and boasts a good cast, but I suspect it will be nothing more than a mindless, over exploitive action fest that’s just trying to capitalize on the popularity of the original series.


     As for the 1979 original, I really don’t hate it, I just don’t care to watch it. It has its fare share of improbable car stunts and crashes that were very impressive for the time and still cool to see, but I can’t say that the movie as a whole really works, at least it doesn’t for me. The movie just has this really stale and depressing overtone, with little incite or thought provoking themes, and it just isn’t entertaining enough to pass as derivative, mindless entertainment either. I know a lot of people love this movie and regarded it as a Sci-Fi classic, but I don’t think I’ll be watching this again anytime soon. There are just a million other bad ass action characters and films that I’d rather watch instead, or heck, just stick with the sequel because that’s far superior.   

                                            I give “Mad Max” 2 Stars out of 5.       

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