Filmsite Movie Review
The Road Warrior (1982) (aka Mad Max 2 (1981))
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Background

The Road Warrior (1982) (aka Mad Max 2 (1981)) is George Miller's exciting post-apocalyptic adventure-thriller film. It was a sequel to the grim revenge/action film Mad Max (1979, Australia)) - about a rogue Australian ex-cop (who had served in the Main Force Patrol (MFP)), but was now a drifter in the country's wasteland, named the "Road Warrior" - or 'Mad Max' (Rockatansky).

When the original film Mad Max (1979) was released in Australia in April of 1979, it was extremely popular and successful, but it suffered a problematic distribution and release in the US by American International Pictures (AIP) - due to AIP's transition to Filmways at the time, and AIP's fears that US audiences wouldn't understand Aussie accents. Therefore in the US version released in the spring of 1980, Mad Max (1979) was dubbed over using American voices and Aussie slang was removed - thereby causing it to fail to receive the audience it deserved.

When the sequel or follow-up film Mad Max 2 was released worldwide in late 1981, US distributor Warner Bros. picked up the rights, but feared that US audiences wouldn't attend a sequel that they knew nothing about. So the studio changed the title to The Road Warrior and delayed its US debut until May of 1982, not fully aware that cable audiences had already helped to bolster awareness of the first film. Nowadays, the R-rated film is sometimes referred to by a hybrid title: Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. Without much advance publicity at the time of its US release, the Australian import faced a veritable onslaught of other more recognizable titles in 1982, such as E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Poltergeist (1982), and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982).

The influential film's taglines partially described the scenario:

  • "In the future, cities will become deserts, roads will become battlefields and the hope of mankind will appear as a stranger."
  • "JUST ONE MAN CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE."

After an indeterminate amount of time since the first film (possibly three to five years later in the late 1980s), the Road Warrior wandered the barren, lawless highways of an Australian outback wasteland in his black super-charged Interceptor along with his Australian cattle or herder dog (a blue heeler). Living only to survive while dealing with anarchic crazies and violent road gangs, his main mission in life was to acquire enough precious petrol ("juice") to keep nomadic. He agreed to help save a besieged, oil-producing colony (established as a small fuel depot at a refinery) from a crazed, marauding wasteland warlord - the threatening Humungus (Kjell Nilsson), by promising to help the refugee community of survivors during a rush for freedom (to a promised land) by driving a big-rig Mack truck (pulling a fuel tanker). In one of the film's major posters, Max and his muscular evil nemesis were partially viewed on opposite sides of the frame - mirror images of each other.

The film was heavily influenced by the historic late-1973 to 1974 oil crisis, when the members of OPEC (Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries) declared an oil embargo and prices shot up 400%. A second oil crisis also occurred from 1978-1979 during a time of unrest in the Middle East, due to decreased oil output in the wake of the Iranian Revolution, leading to massive lines at US gas stations (and gas rationing) because of fears of declining oil reserves.

The entire 96 minute cult film (with very sparse dialogue) had the same formula as various Japanese samurai classics, the 50s western Shane (1953), the 'adult' John Wayne western Hondo (1953), The Magnificent Seven (1960), L.Q. Jones' science-fiction cult favorite A Boy and His Dog (1975), or any of the Sergio Leone 'spaghetti westerns', with Gibson providing the Clint Eastwood "Man With No Name" legendary hero - or anti-hero role, according to Joseph Campbell. It was a tremendous international (world-wide) box-office success, and launched the US career of its star Mel Gibson.

[Note: It was reported that Gibson had only about 15 or 16 lines of dialogue in the entire film.]

On a budget of $3-4 million, the movie grossed $23.7 million. It was the highest-grossing Australian film (worldwide) until the release of Crocodile Dundee (1986). Director George Miller was also propelled to stardom, and would go on to make Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), The Witches of Eastwick (1987), Lorenzo's Oil (1992), Babe: Pig in the City (1998), Happy Feet (2006) and Happy Feet Two (2011), and the equally exciting Max sequel, Mad Max: Fury Road (2015).

This film was best known for its crisply-edited, non-stop car action and amazing stuntwork in its dazzling climax, as well as its stark, naturalistic cinematic depiction of a post-apocalyptic future (after WW III) and other visual and stylistic designs that many other films have imitated ever since (i.e., Conan the Barbarian (1982), The Terminator (1984), Waterworld (1995), etc.). Other elements were praised, including the pounding musical score (by Brian May), and the punk costumes of the savage, mohawk-haired male bikers, some of whom had butt-less chaps.

[Note: The costumes were a combination of elements from Hell's Angels bikers, S&M bondage, and Nazi Stormtroopers.]

This sequel film, superior to the original film - an even darker revenge film Mad Max (1979) - was followed by a nuclear post-apocalyptic sequel, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), memorably featuring a co-starring role by rock star Tina Turner. Its most recent interation was the highly-regarded Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) - also co-written, produced, and directed by 70 year-old George Miller.

In homage to the film during the 1980s, Amoco ran a TV commercial in 1984 that was a fun parody, titled The Road Worrier. The "Max" character bragged: "I like the power that Amoco gives me." A TV series rip-off that was broadcast during the 1987-1988 season (with only 10 episodes), appeared with a similar heroic character titled The Highwayman. The show starred Sam Jones as the title character, co-starring with Australian Rules football star Mark 'Jacko' Jackson as Jetto.

The Story

The great narration for the opening prologue (voice by Harold Baigent) was later revealed to be from the Feral Kid - it told about the post-apocalyptic, lawless wasteland of the outback of Australia. There, fuel was very scarce due to a collapse of the oil-based industry, and petrol (now a precious commodity) was fought over by lawless gangs.

The Bridge Between The First Film and This Sequel:

The narration re-introduced Mad Max, and the environment was described (with mostly black-and-white 20th century documentary footage from the previous original film - including the murder of Max's wife and child by a biker gang) - making oblique references to a Cold War between "two mighty warrior tribes" (the US and USSR ?) that led to a grim world of nuclear holocaust survivors:

"My life fades, the vision dims. All that remains are memories. I remember a time of chaos, ruined dreams, this wasted land. But most of all, I remember the Road Warrior, the man we called Max. To understand who he was, you have to go back to another time when the world was powered by the black fuel and the deserts sprouted great cities of pipe and steel. Gone now, swept away. For reasons long forgotten, two mighty warrior tribes went to war and touched off a blaze which engulfed them all. Without fuel they were nothing. They'd built a house of straw. The thundering machines sputtered and stopped. Their leaders talked and talked and talked, but nothing could stem the avalanche. Their world crumbled, the cities exploded. A whirlwind of looting, a firestorm of fear. Men began to feed on men. On the roads, it was a white-line nightmare. Only those mobile enough to scavenge, brutal enough to pillage, would survive. The gangs took over the highways, ready to wage war for a tank of juice. And in this maelstrom of decay, ordinary men were battered and smashed. Men like Max, the warrior Max. In the roar of an engine, he lost everything, and became a shell of a man, a burnt out, desolate man, a man haunted by the demons of his past. A man who wandered out into the wasteland. And it was here in this blighted place that he learned to live again."

The opening (and closing) images of lone rogue cop or 'road warrior' Mad Max (Rockatansky) (Mel Gibson), an ex-member of the Australian highway patrol (the Main Force Patrol (MFP)), portrayed him standing as a lone figure amidst visions of a post-apocalyptic violent world. As the film transitioned from black and white to color, Max was described as a "desolate man" as he appeared to limp away from the gravesites of his wife and child. He "wandered out into the wasteland" - and was next seen on the open, barren and lawless highways and roads (the "white-line nightmare") in the Australian outback wasteland.

His self-interested life was one of nomadic scavenging, surviving, and searching for fuel. He was driving a powerful but battered 1969 black-painted Interceptor (a super-charged V-8 Ford Falcon XB GT Coupe) along with his trusted Australian cattle dog. [Note: Max was a connected and kindred spirit with his stray dog - "Dog" had a red sash tied around his neck, and Max sported a red oil rag tied around his right arm.] He had an unkempt and unshaven look - wearing a tattered and dirty leather police uniform (with a missing right arm sleeve on his leather-jacket), and sporting a rare sawed-off shotgun.

Opening Chase Sequence:

In an introductory scene, Max was being chased on an Outback road in Australia by some members of an anarchic, violent road gang (two cars and a motorbike). When he activated his car's booster (knowing he was almost on empty), he outran the pursuers and caused the wreckage of the two cars (at the site of a previously-crashed tanker-truck, with an emptied gas tank). The only two surviving marauders were on a motorbike:

  • Wez (Vernon Wells), a crimson-mohawk-haired, punk crazy, who wore mascara and black feathers on his shoulders [Note: Vernon Wells reprised his role as Wez in the teen comedy, Weird Science (1985)]
  • Golden Youth (credited as Jimmy Brown/Jerry O'Sullivan), Wez' blonde boy-toy male companion

From a distance, Max watched them as he stood by the side of the truck/trailer - its load was covered by a green canvas tarp that was scrawled with the words: "THE VERMIN HAVE INHERITED THE EARTH." [Note: The word 'EARTH' couldn't fit on the tarp and was written on the cab door.] Max hurriedly collected leaking gasoline from one of the two crashed cars. [Note: Some of the dripping gasoline fuel was mixed with the red blood of the murdered trucker - a cryptic metaphor for the lives lost over fuel competition.]

He warily watched as Wez (who had been shot in his right bicep with an arrow) maniacally and threateningly screamed toward him - a declaration of vengeance. Then, Wez painfully extracted the arrow from his arm, reholstered it on his leg for future use, and zoomed off (with a wheelie). After sniffing a dead kangaroo lying on the road next to the rig, Max's cattle dog also watched their departure.

In the truck wreckage in the main cab, Max discovered the mutilated body of the trucker and a small wind-up musical mechanism (the internal part of a music box) that fell from the man's outstretched hand. It played the tinkling tune of "Happy Birthday to You." [Note: Max played the familiar tune up until the very last note - leaving the happy song incomplete and unfinished.] He quickly pocketed the scavenged item.

The Introduction of the Gyro Captain:

Max proceeded further into the outback and came upon a booby-trapped, seemingly-abandoned gyrocopter (or autogyro) - suspiciously set up to steal fuel from unsuspecting bypassers. [Note: An image of a busty naked woman was pasted or painted onto one of the rudders of the copter.] As he warily approached the machine to scavenge what he could, the squawking sound of a buzzard, crow, or bird circling above was heard - to reinforce their similar motives.

He seized a hissing poisonous snake that had been set as a trap to strike at anyone who came close. From an underground pit, the looney but comical and resourceful Gyrocopter pilot, Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence) emerged and threatened him with a crossbow. The gangly Gyro Captain was oddly dressed, with a feminine pink scarf and shoes, and a flower worn over his heart. He was intent on exploiting anyone who came by - in this case, to steal Max's fuel ("Looks like l've got myself some gasoline, eh? Eh? Eh! Huh!"), but was warned by Max (his first line of dialogue about 11 minutes into the film):

"Booby-trapped. Touch those tanks and -- boom!" [Note: Max spoke 'boom' with a sound-effect instead of the word.]

The Gyro Captain was amazed by Max's quickness: "Never seen a man beat the snake before. Who are ya? Reflexes, that's what you've got. Me, I've got brains." While pretending to disarm the booby-trap, Max was unable to access his sheathed knife hidden on the underbody of the vehicle (the Gyro Captain threatened: "A quick fella might have a weapon under there. I'd have to pin his head to the panel. Hey, hey, hey, hey! Don't play me the fool!").

Soon, the tables were turned when Max's dog attacked. Promising not to kill him, Max took the outwitted Captain prisoner after he was directed toward a remote oil refinery 20 miles away that was a promising location for fuel - with both an oil pump and tanker. The Gyro Captain successfully bargained for his life as he kept exclaiming:

"Gas! Fuel! Gasoline! Thousands of gallons of it! As much as you want!...20 miles from here. Pumpin' it, they are! Refinin'! A huge tanker full....Kill me and you'll never find out!"

With the Gyro Captain as his prisoner, Max was directed to the site of the refinery compound.

The Besieged Oil Refinery and Its Civilized Colonists:

From a rocky cliff promontory, Max watched through binoculars as a nomadic, barbaric, terrorizing horde of Marauders circled the oil refinery, armed with medieval weaponry. He watched as a small, besieged band of decent-living refugees or survivors (in a colony) were defending a small fuel depot at the refinery. At the same time, the Gyro Captain provided running commentary about how he had previously observed the compound - it seemed to be under constant surveillance by gas-mad warriors ("trash") with souped-up vehicles and medieval-styled weapons:

"Well, there it is. Four days I was up here, me and the snakes, playin' mah-jong, takin' tea, watching, thinking: 'How was I gonna get in and get the gas? Day and night, it's pumpin'. Ka-chunk! Ka-chunk! Ka-chunk! Fuel to burn. They got the lot: power, lights, you name it. You bet your life they mean to keep it. Thirty of 'em in there. Arrows, flame-throwers, guns! No place for man or reptile, l thought. Then this trash arrived. Moths to a flame. Round and round, attack, attack, like angry ants, mad with the smell of gasoline. In the tanker, that's where they keep it. Thousands of gallons, much as you want. lf anyone's gonna get in there, it's gonna be you."

While the Gyro Captain was chained to a tree stump, the dehumanized Max resorted to his regular meal of dog food - eaten with his bare hands. Max opened a tin of Dinky-Di (Meat & Vegies) for a tasty meal. [Note: "Dinky-DI" = Australian slang for 'genuine.' Max had a whole cardboard box of the cans in his vehicle.] He left the scraps for his dog - and only by nightfall were there any scraps left for the Gyro Captain to eat. In contrast, the Gyro Captain ate the 'food' with a prized spoon, and after finishing, he politely wiped his mouth with a cloth.

The next morning, Max and Gyro were awakened by noises of vehicular activity around the refinery. Max watched from afar as a group of townsfolk (in four vehicles going in opposite directions) left the compound (on a sortie). Commands were overheard from Humungus, who encouraged his horde of evil, crazed warriors to attack (his army was referred to as "vermin," "smegma-crazies," and "gayboy berserkers"!):

Attack, my vermin, attack! Onward! Bring me the fuel. For the glory of Humungus. For the great glory of Humungus. Smegma crazies to the left! The gate! Gayboy berserkers to the gate! I am your Lord. Attack, my vermin, attack!

The vehicles were immediately pursued - observed in horror by Max and the Gyro Captain (with his mouth agape) at the capture of the occupants of one overturned vehicle. They watched the brutal (and lethal) wounding of the male driver Nathan (David Downer) (he was pinned by darts to his vehicle by Wez's wrist-mounted crossbow) and the stripping, rape (and murder by crossbow) of a female victim (Kathleen McKay). [Note: The rape scene was modeled after a similar scene in A Clockwork Orange (1971).] Among the motley crew of bikers at the scene, Max recognized Wez with his blonde partner.

Shortly later, Max raced to his Interceptor to drive down to the wasteland and survey the devastation. He killed the remaining sole Grinning Mohawk-haired rapist (Tony Deary) by striking him across the face with a set of bolt cutters, and released the critically-wounded male. When Nathan gratefully thanked him, Max coldly asserted: "Save it. l'm just here for the gasoline," before driving him back to the settlers' colony to return him (in exchange for fuel). Nathan promised: "As much as you like. Just take me back there."

Inside the compound, Max met the colonists' idealistic and patriarchal leader and visionary Papagallo (Mike Preston), and requested the fuel promised by Nathan: "He said if l brought him back, you'd give me some gas." [Note: Notice that the Feral Kid, not yet identified formally, walked behind Max in his footsteps - already idolizing him.] The leader reneged on the deal when Nathan was announced dead: ("If you had a contract, it was with him. And it died with him"). Max was regarded with great skepticism as an opportunist: ("He's a parasite! Trading in human flesh! Mercenary trash!"). Other prominent members were introduced:

  • the Feral Kid (8 year-old Emil Minty) - a 9-10 year-old primitive mute wearing a fur or hide vest and shorts; he often navigated a series of dirt tunnels, and spoke only in grunts and growls; he had a thick welding glove on his left hand to catch his lethal metal boomerang
  • the Warrior Woman (Virginia Hey) - a tall and strident member of the community, wearing shoulder pads, who was immediately very distrustful of Max [Note: Hey later portrayed (bad) Bond girl Rubavitch, the mistress of KGB head General Pushkin - a very minor role in The Living Daylights (1987).]
  • the Mechanic (Steve J. Spears) - a paraplegic often suspended in a sling

The Mechanic (who had successfully deactivated the car's explosive trap) praised Max's Interceptor while it was being towed into the compound: "Got to hand it to you, treasure! The last of the V-8 lnterceptors! A piece of history! Would've been a shame to blow it up."

With the approach of Humungus' gang, the gates to the refinery were hurriedly reinforced and everyone went to their battle-stations. A school bus, shielded on its sides by armored metal plates, was parked to block the gate entrance. Max found himself chained to a pipe to watch the confrontation.

The Introduction of Humungus - and His Ultimatum to the Colonists:

In the next sequence, the muscle-bound, warrior-leader Humungus (Kjell Nilsson, a Swedish weightlifter) appeared in his throne-like vehicle, surrounded by other assorted transports. He was wearing a hockey mask to cover his disfigured face (facial injuries from severe burns or radiation sickness?), a thick rubber collar, codpiece, and a leather harness over his bare chest. A close-up of the back of his head revealed veins on his mostly-bald scalp, wisps of hair, and the absence of ears.

[Note: Other masked characters similar to Humungus were recalled, including Star Wars' Darth Vader, and Friday the 13th's Jason Voorhees.]

Their arrival revealed the capture of two other colonists (strapped to the front of Humungus' vehicle) and the corpses of many others. Humungus' titles were announced by his prophetic spokesman Toadie (Max Phipps) - a bespectacled odd man (somewhat disrespected by fellow gang members) who was wearing a mink stole on his head, and with clothing decorated by various automobile badges and hood ornaments:

"Greetings from The Humungus! The Lord Humungus! The Warrior of the Wasteland! The Ayatollah of Rock and Roller!"

During his major confrontational speech to the colonists, Humungus knew that their earlier sortie had been to locate a large semi-tractor to haul their fuel-filled oil tanker from the refinery compound:

"I am gravely disappointed. Again you have made me unleash my dogs of war. Look at what remains of your gallant scouts. Why? Because you're selfish! You hoard your gasoline....Now, my prisoners say you plan to take your gasoline out of the Wasteland. You sent them out this morning to find a vehicle. A rig big enough to haul that fat tank of gas. What a puny plan! Look around you. This is the Valley of Death.... Humungus will not be defied!"

Toward the conclusion of his speech during the stand-off, the Feral Kid (who emerged from a nearby tunnel opening) flung his metal boomerang at the Marauders. After one miss, the Feral Kid deftly caught his own boomerang and made a second throw - Wez successfully dodged the weapon, but it struck and killed Wez's blonde lover-partner in the skull-forehead. Enraged, Wez retaliated by throwing the boomerang back at the Feral Kid, but it missed - and as it circled back around, Toadie attempted to show-off by catching the sharp boomerang ("I got it, I got it"). He lost several of his fingers - providing grisly laughter and entertainment for the gang. Humungus was exasperated and tried to refocus the distracted group: "Quiet! Quiet! No more games! No more games! We are here for a purpose. We come with an offer."

Furious and ready to retaliate, Wez called for an immediate attack and argued with his leader:

"No! No more talk! We go in! We kill! Kill! We kill 'em! They kill us, we kill them! Kill 'em! Kill 'em! Kill! Kill!"

But Humungus fought against Wez, subdued him with a vice-grip choke hold, and took command: "We do it my way. Fear is our ally. The gasoline will be ours. Then you shall have your revenge."

Before leaving, Humungus offered the colonists a chance to surrender. They could save their lives and receive "safe passage" if they gave up the refinery and their fuel, and departed peacefully:

"There has been too much violence. Too much pain. But I have an honorable compromise. Just walk away. Give me the pump, the oil, the gasoline and the whole compound, and I'll spare your lives. Just walk away. I will give you safe passage in the Wasteland. Just walk away and there will be an end to the horror. I await your answer. You have one full day to decide."

[Note: This was the age-old story of the seige of a circled, westward-bound wagon-train, or the assault on the Alamo.]

Max's Offer to Retrieve a Big Rig:

There was subsequent debate between many of the colonists about whether to accept Humungus' ultimatum or not. The Quiet Man, Papagallo, Farmer and the Warrior Woman argued that they must continue to resist the "vermin on machines" and "defend the fuel," while others (mostly Big Rebecca, and Curmudgeon) gave pro-arguments to accept Humungus' Ultimatum:

  • The Quiet Man (David Slingsby): "We'll never walk away! Never!"
  • Big Rebecca (Moira Claux): "You heard what he said! lt sounds reasonable! We don't have to die! All we have to do is walk away!"
  • Warrior Woman: "No! We've worked too hard!"
  • Big Rebecca: "lt's simple! All we do is exchange the fuel and this junkyard for our lives!"
  • Farmer: "Look, if we walk out there, they'll slaughter us! They'll set us loose and then cut us down like pigs!"
  • Big Rebecca: (to the other colonists who resisted) "Don't listen to them!"
  • The Helmeted Curmudgeon (Syd Heylen): "All right, this is it! l'll talk to this Humungus!...He's a reasonable man open to negotiation."
  • Big Rebecca: "He promised us safe passage! He gave his word!"
  • Pappagallo: "And let us suppose he keeps it, and we walk away from here with our lives. What then? Do we wander the Wasteland and become like them? Savages. But remember. Remember. That is more than just a tanker of gas. That is our lifeline to a place beyond that vermin on machines."
  • Curmudgeon: "That's 2,000 miles from here. How do you expect us to get it (the tanker) there? Drag it?"
  • Pappagallo: "If we have to, yes. There's always a way. But the first step: Defend the fuel."
  • Big Rebecca: "Words! Just words! You'll die for a pipe dream!"
  • Warrior Woman: "Wrong. We fight for a belief! l stay!"
  • The Captain's Girl: (Arkie Whiteley) "l wish it could have worked, Pappagallo. You can't expect to compete with that. Every day we get weaker while they get stronger. lt's finished! I'm sorry."

During the conversation, Max established some rapport with the Feral Kid by showing him the wind-up mechanism from a music box (the one that he had found in the truck's wreckage) and playing the tune. He tossed the toy to the completely-enraptured and delighted Feral Boy who smiled thankfully and exclaimed: "Aah! Ahah! AAh!" - in effect, Max had handed over memories of past good times from an earlier time period. [Note: There were similarities in the bond established between the Feral Boy and Max, and the connection made between young Joey Starrett (Brandon de Wilde) and Shane (Alan Ladd) in Shane (1953).]

After observing and listening to the colonists arguing about whether to accept Humungus' ultimatum or not, Max whistled for their attention and non-chalantly delivered an alternative bargain: "If you wanna get outta here, you talk to me" - he would deliver a rig to them (the one that was earlier left on the road during the introductory chase), in order to haul their tanker. In exchange, he demanded the return of his car filled with fuel:

"Two days ago, I saw a vehicle that could haul that tanker. If you wanna get outta here, you talk to me. (later that night) Okay, so that's my offer. I deliver a rig big enough to haul that tanker of yours, you give me back my vehicle and as much juice as I can carry."

The deal was agreed upon, although the colonists kept Max's vehicle - as collateral - to ensure that Max cooperated.


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