“Greetings from the Humungus! The Lord Humungus! The Warrior of the Wasteland! The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla!” proclaims Toadie.
The Australian New Wave brought a resurgence of strong Australian films and brought acclaim to emerging filmmakers such as Peter Weir, Gillian Armstrong, and Phillip Noyce. Writer/director George Miller won acclaim for his feature debut Mad Max, which also won acclaim for breakout star Mel Gibson. 1979’s Mad Max was a hit in Australia but not so much internationally (it did well enough to become the most profitable film of all time thanks to its small budget, and it held on to that record for 20 years until the release of 1999’s The Blair Witch Project). Miller would follow Mad Max with a sequel two years later, which would become a bigger hit in Australia and abroad, making Mel Gibson an international star. I saw the film on Blu-ray not too long ago after wanting to see it for years, and enjoyed it very much. I recently got the chance to see a midnight showing of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior on the big screen at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema in New York City, and I enjoyed it all over again.
1981’s Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (originally released in the U.S. as The Road Warrior due to concerns that American audiences weren’t familiar with the first film) follows former lawman Max Rockatansky in the Australian landscape as he scavenges in a dystopian future that has increased significantly since the end of the first film. Max becomes involved in a conflict between a village that has successfully created an oil refinery and a group of marauders led by the Humungus who wants the gas. Miller assembled a fine cast that includes Mel Gibson (as Max), Bruce Spence (as the Gyro Captain), Vernon Wells (as Wez), Michael Preston (as Pappagallo), Kjell Nilsson (as Lord Humungus), Max Phipps (as Toadie), Emil Minty (as the Feral Kid), Virginia Hey (as the Warrior Woman), and Arkie Whiteley (as the Captain’s Girl). Gibson is awesome in his reprisal of Max, creating a more nuanced, broken down man who hardly speaks but is determined to survive. Spence serves up some comic relief as the Gyro Captain but also proves the character’s heroic worth. Wells brings a lot of intense savagery as the vile henchman Wez, who many times comes off as more animal than human.
Miller’s direction draws strong performances from his cast and creates fantastic action sequences (the car chase in the third act is one of the best I’ve ever seen). The screenplay by Miller, Terry Hayes, and Brian Hannant delves further into the dystopian future established in the previous film (what was left of civilization has crumbled and those who have not become marauders have tried to rebuild their lives). The story of a group of settlers defending their homes against an invading group makes this film a kind of post-apocalyptic Australian Western. Dean Semler’s cinematography enhances the Western feeling that the film evokes, while Graham “Grace” Walker’s production design effectively creates a sort of junkyard society, post-apocalyptic world in the Australian desert (the settlement pumping the gas was my favorite set).
Norma Moriceau’s costume designs continue with established looks from the first film, but now taken much further, especially with the marauders’ leather bondage gear (Moriceau’s designs have been very influential in both cinema and pro wrestling, particularly the tag teams the Road Warriors and Demolition). The editing by Michael Balson, David Stiven, and Tim Wellburn moves the film at a brisk pace, heightening the drama and energizing the action sequences. Lesley Vanderwalt’s makeup design goes hand-in-hand with Moriceau’s costume designs in establishing the looks of the post-apocalyptic survivors (Vanderwalt would reunite with Miller 34 years later for the makeup design for Mad Max: Fury Road). Brian May delivers a dramatic and action-packed score that also reflects Max’s isolation/loneliness (gone is the love theme that dominated the first film’s score). George Miller’s Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior is the rare sequel that improves upon the original, and whose success made Mel Gibson a huge international star while influencing future films of the genre.