Years ago, Max lost his family to a biker gang, all of whom died shortly thereafter in his quest for revenge. Now, he wanders through the wasteland of post-apocalyptic Australia, living day-to-day with his dog. However, he wanders into an area controlled by marauders, and manages to fight them off. One of the group, a mohawked man, shows his toughness by pulling an arrow that pierced his leg and adding it to his arsenal without ill effect to himself. He then speeds off on his motorcycle.
Max turns his attention to the two crashed vehicles and proceeds to collect their fuel. Taking note of his surroundings, he finds a large Mack truck, its driver and passenger long since dead from injuries sustained during an attack. One of them carried a little music box that plays “Happy Birthday” which Max procures. Max collected all the fuel the cars had and speeds away during the night.
The next morning Max finds an ultra-light gyrocopter sitting in the middle of the desert. He grabs his tire iron and gas can to try and steal the gas, but finds that it was an elaborate by its pilot. Max turns the tables by having his dog assault the pilot, and he tells Max of a refinery that has lots of fuel. Max forces the pilot to show by tying him up to and tying a piece of string to gun’s trigger on his dog’s tooth. When they reach the refinery, the pilot tells Max of what had been happening in the area for the last several weeks while Max looks at the band of marauders attempting to storm the barricaded refinery. Max then notices the mohawked warrior from before. Max decides to make an encampment on the hill, and they all sleep during the night.
The next morning, the refinery sends some vehicles to the outside, and the marauders give pursuit. When one of the vehicles turns over, the marauders begin a vicious assault of the people inside. They shoot the man who was driving the vehicle, and raped the woman who was with him. Max quickly speeds off in his car, and the pilot watches in horror when the last marauder kills the woman. Max reaches the scene and kills the marauder while he was distracted. He finds the man who was shot and frees him. Max then takes him back to the refinery compound where he surrenders himself to the people inside. A young boy raised in the wild watches with interest. The leader of the people is interested in how Max survived the marauders, but all Max wants is fuel. When the man Max rescues dies from his wounds, the leader wants Max thrown out, and has his car confiscated. However, before he exits the compound, the marauders return, having captured the other people who had left the refinery.
The leader of the marauders, called The Humongous, makes it clear that he wants their gasoline. The wild boy from earlier reappears and throws his boomerang at the marauders, which kills the mohawked man Wez’ lover. After a moment of cruel humor in which a marauder gets his fingers chopped off attempting to catch the boomerang, Wez wants revenge and has to be restrained by the Humongous. Finally, the Humongous offers a compromise: Let his group have the fuel, and they will be safely escorted out of the wasteland. Unfortunately, it is clear that the Humongous has no intention of keeping his word. The marauders then depart, leaving the people in the compound to argue amongst themselves. When the leader, Papagallo, attempts to convince the people that they only have to hold out a little while longer, there is a mass rejection of the idea. Max interjects that he can get them what they need to survive: A large Mack truck. They strike a deal, and he takes some gasoline and leaves the compound during the night.
The next morning, Max reaches his encampment and finds that the Pilot has escaped. He does not get very far, still burdened with the heavy restraints. Max forces him to carry the gas he received from the compound, and they make it back to the Pilot’s ultralight. They fly the ultralight (using some of the fuel Max received) to the Mack truck Max found a few days ago. They fuel the truck and start it up. Max allows the Pilot to go free and Max drives back to the compound. Max grabs his gun and checks the ammo before storming the marauder’s encampment, which stood between him and the compound. As Max drives at high speed, the Pilot flies along side, even assisting Max at a critical moment. However, the Humongous, equipped with his own firearm, damages the truck before it can reach the compound. As Max’s truck limps inside, the pursuing marauders manage to storm the refinery and wreak havoc until the inhabitants fight them off. With the battle over, the people now look to Max as a hero, but all Max wants to do is fuel his car and leave. The Pilot, having made a last minute save of the people inside during the battle, finds the possibility of romance in the air when one of the young women takes a liking to him.
As Papagallo and the people work feverishly to repair the truck and pack up to leave, the Humongous, angered at the turn of events, vows to kill everyone inside the compound. The marauders hold the equivalent of a war dance outside the compound, while Papagallo attempts to convince Max to drive the truck one more time to help lead his people to Paradise. Max violently rebuffs him, and Papagallo chastises Max for his behavior. Having finished fueling his vehicle, Max leaves the compound and runs his car through the marauder encampment. Wez sees his chance to get his revenge, and steals the Humongous’s vehicle. When Max makes it to the open road, he shifts into 5th gear and activates the supercharger, which allows Max to speed away. However, the Humongous’s vehicle is equipped with a Nitrous system, and this allows Wez to catch up to Max and seriously damage Max’s vehicle. In the ensuing chaos, Max crashes his car and it lands in a ditch. The other marauders reach the car and attempt to steal Max’s gas. Max’s dog attempts to defend him, but is killed by a marauder. The other marauder opens the gas tank, which activates the booby trap he planted on his car. The car explodes shortly thereafter.
The Pilot uses his telescope and see the billowing smoke over the horizon. He formulates a plan of action and goes to rescue Max, who is a bloody mess. Having been patched up, the wild boy gives Max his clothes. When Max comes out of the hut, he finds Papagallo giving his final instructions for the escape plan. Max jumps in and demands that he drive the truck. Papagallo considers this for a moment, and hands Max the gun and ammo. The compound inhabitants all load into their vehicles, lead by a heavily armored Mack truck. The wild boy escaped custody of the civilians and manages to jump on the truck as it assaults the marauders head on, even shrugging off the Humongous’s .357 pistol. When the marauders feverishly follow the truck, some of the stragglers notice the other refinery inhabitants driving off in the other direction. The turn around and head back for the compound. Elated at the prospect of making their own gas, they quickly realize that the refinery had been booby-trapped. The marauders that were inside the compound died in the giant explosion.
On the open highway, the Mack truck is speeding with its gas tanker in tow, which is guarded by the refinery’s bravest warriors. Papagallo, driving one of the escort cars, take it off-road, and he is pursued by the motorcycle marauders. The Humongous frees Wez from confinement and Wez leads the assault on the tanker. The warriors fight valiantly, but they all die in some horrific fashion. When the marauders finally begin the assault on the Mack truck itself, the wild boy finally makes his presence known to Max. Max takes him inside the truck as the marauders reach its roof. Max blasts two of the marauders off of the truck. Wez leads the final charge, and Max is severely injured. He does manage to have Wez thrown through the front of the truck. Papagallo rejoins the chase and tries to get the wild boy to join him in the car, but the Humongous kills Papagallo. The marauders continue to close in, and the Pilot firebombs the Humongous’ car before being shot down. Now alone, Max executes a complete 180 degree turn and proceeds at full speed with the remaining marauders in pursuit. The Humongous puts out the fire and activates his nitrous.
The wild boy makes his way on the hood the truck to retrieve a shotgun shell, but he is assaulted by a bloody Wez. It all comes to a head shortly thereafter, when the Humongous approaches on a collision course. The resulting crash kills Wez and the Humongous instantly, and in the process renders the truck all but destroyed. The surviving marauders look upon the scene and drive away, dejected. Max grabs the unconscious wild boy and they walk through the wreckage. It is here that Max discovers the truth; he had been carrying sand the entire time. The pilot drive up in his broken gyro-copter, and they share a laugh.
As the caravan which left during the battle finally catches up with Max, the wild boy joins them and the pilot is accepted as the new leader. The narration also reveals that the story was being told from the wild boy’s point of view as a memory. The movie closes with Max watching the caravan leave.
Review and Analysis:
When this movie hit American shores in 1981, its impact was immediate and continues to be felt. It single-handedly redefined the idea of the Future Dystopia after a big war, and has often been cited as a possible future when access to cheap and refinable oil runs out and countries engage in resource wars for hegemonic survival.
A Very Simple Movie:
With the use of simple camera tricks, there is an illusion of high-speed action. This movie also contains one of the most famous car chases in the history of movie making. What is also interesting about this movie is the amount dialogue lacks; with the exception of Papagallo attempting to make the Feral Kid jump onto his car near the end of the chase, there is not alot of actual lines spoken during the chase, and most of them are spoken by Wez.
Other camera tricks include slowing the filming process down to make it appear that vehicles are driving at very high speeds. In close many up shots, the vehicle is rocked or shaken to make it appear that the vehicle itself is in trouble (watch the sky during these scenes, it doesn’t shift as it should if the vehicle is in motion). Or, if they need the appearance of motion, a large fan is used to simulate wind. In others, a still photo is used and zoomed to indicate action. And yet another shot, when the Gyro Captain crashes his ultra-light, it is all camera shifting and zoom tricks until the actual crash, when the use of a small plastic model and a remote controlled toy car make up the final shot.
Even with the scene where Wez shoots a rabbit is a well executed shot. It looks like the rabbit was outfitted with a furry collar that contained an arrow sticking out of its side and a thin string attached to it. With a tug, the rabbit is pulled into the air for a very short distance. The editor then reverses this footage and splices it in after Wez shoots at the rabbit, and the end result is the bunny appears to have taken an arrow in its side.
Even Brian May’s film score is sparse and effective. The orchestrations maintain an overall theme, and are heavy on traditional Hollywood orchestration instruments (horns, strings, and percussion – no guitars).
This movie was made with a cost of $4m Australian and proceeded to make more than 7 times that amount.
George Miller maintains a consistency throughout the film. With the exception of the Humongous and Max, no one else has a firearm. Like everything else in the film, ammunition is at a premium. The Humongous’ .357 pistol only had 5 bullets remaining when he encountered Max and the truck, thus he uses his bullets very sparingly. Everyone else uses crossbows, knives, blunt weapons, or homemade Molotov cocktails. The vehicles themselves are vintage cars or dune buggies, but given enough parts slapped on to give the illusion of cannibalization of the cars.
One Big Gay Villain:
What sets “The Road Warrior” apart from nearly every movie before and after this one is the villain in this movie. Although the Humongous is the “main” bad guy in this film, Wez is the one with the most impact in the story.
Wez’ love is strictly “implied,” as there is no direct scene that shows Wez being affectionate with him onscreen. In addition, while Wez shows himself to be a killer marauder of the first degree, his anger turns to pure rage after his lover has been killed. Thus, it follows a known (and rather worn) stereotype of gay people who become obsessive killers. More often, however, is that the killers are usually women in the film (mostly because Male Privilege finds such women to be exploitably sexy). And, as mentioned earlier, Wez has been shown with a willingness to kill just about anyone and anything that stands against him. But it is still a stereotype nonetheless.
It is a 50/50 coin flip as to whether or not Vernon Wells’ portrayal of Wez ever advanced the idea of a credible villain who is gay. But judging from Hollywood’s subsequent attempts at Villains who are Gay and Gay Villains, it seems like production companies are still stuck on stupid.
The Ultimate Star of this Movie:
The Mack Truck. The Paradise Seekers equip this truck with armor, including the cowcatcher modified to fit onto the Mack’s front crash bumper. For the super stunt spectacle that takes up the final 15 minutes of the film, there was a need for something like this to act as the chariot. Admittedly, this film contains car crashes that would make Hal Needham proud – although the stunts are better executed here.
Marginalized Bodies and This Movie:
As stated before, Wez is perhaps about as respectable as you can find as an Antagonist who is Gay. You also have this man:
If anyone decided to remake “The Road Warrior” today, this is one character that would probably be altered if not completely erased. He was part of a second implied relationship in this film, and it was to this woman:
She was, far and away, the toughest warrior in the compound. Note that she is the only woman in the film on either side that actually participates in the hostilities.
The mechanic and warrior woman die at roughly the same point in time in the movie.
Break Out the Fetish Wear:
Seriously, many of the bad guys are dressed as if they were straight from a BDSM session in someone’s mansion:
Incidentally, the Humongous was the inspiration for the final character, The Executioner, in the Atari Game “Pit Fighter.”
Also, take note of the three women in this shot. One has an eyepatch, the second one is standing on the car in the background (in black shorts and stockings with a silver helmet), and the third in all-black with short hair and black stockings all the way in the back. They are only three of the four or five women who roll with The Dogs of War (the fourth was having sex with another man when Max’s Mack snags a corner of their tent to reveal them). The women featured in these scenes will never be seen again in the movie. It then goes without saying that the Female members of the Dogs of War do not participate in the battles shown in this movie at all.
With the exception of the Toady, Wez, and his lover, no one else’s face is shown. All of the Dogs of War, including the Humongous, have no face, and, in reality, have no voice of their own.
The Paradise Seekers are simply those who came together through various circumstances. However, no one but Papagallo even gets a name. No one gets a history.
And everyone who participates in the battle for the Paradise Seekers dies. Every time I view this battle, knowing that the truck has been filled with sand, I usually wonder if Papagallo actually believed this to be a suicide mission. Or, at the very least, a Fool’s Errand.
Mad Gibson’s US Debut:
Mel Gibson’s American debut comes courtesy of this movie. Unlike the other action heroes of the era (like Stallone, Eastwood, and Norris), Gibson does not begin his action career by blowing away Black, Brown, and Yellow people in the name of assuaging America’s ego. In fact, looking at Gibson’s movie career, you will not find many times where Gibson takes on an Antagonist of Color (the biggest exception being Lethal Weapon 4). Furthermore, many of Gibson’s enemies have been those who could be considered enemies of America in general (ex-Military types smuggling drugs, which is based on one of the many tentacles of the Iran-Contra Scandal), or People of Color (South African Officials smuggling drugs into the US while using diplomatic immunity. They also hate Black People), or American communities (Corrupt Cops trafficking armor-piercing bullets).
Mel Gibson had kept most of his personal politics out of the limelight until a drunk-driving stop by a police officer changed that. This would actually mark the first of many incidents where’s Gibson’s anger would would lead to bigoted and sexist remarks that would find their way to the public, leading to public humiliation in the press and hand-wringing by Gibson’s supporters. Nonetheless, there was a time when such behavior was not often cast in the spotlight, but this was in the days before tabloid journalism and celebrity exposé entered into the mainstream. Even so-called “legitimate” news organizations will now send top-tier reporters to cover arrests of celebrities on drug and alcohol charges (like Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton), demonstrating how deep this fascination with celebrity stalking is has and how permeated in the mainstream it has become.
But, There’s Always a Catch:
As well-executed this movie may be, the Mad Max franchise would only feature one person of color throughout the trilogy. This movie features no People of Color whatsoever. Once again, even in a dystopian future, there are only White survivors.
The Road Warrior is a good movie for what it purports itself to be: A chronicle of an old man seeing his last days upon him reliving a memory that helped to shape what his life would become. George Miller’s simple camera tricks seem to reflect a bygone era, but help to keep the movie from being placed into the dustbin of history so quickly. The same cannot be said for its spinoffs nor its copycats, mostly because they all missed the point of the film, as well as what made this film popular.
Nevertheless, the film’s longevity is a testament to its simplicity of theme; as critical dissection of this film does not often veer into the racial or geo-political dynamics that this film provides, nor does it often touch on gender as many other classic films of the time have (such as Star Wars, for example). In short, the idea of a post-apocalyptic world tends to paper over basic issues of Australian casting and film-making, which emulates many of the same problems found in US productions.
The Road Warrior works – and doesn’t work at the same time. It shows the magic of Hollywood as well as the dark underside all at once. Compartmentalize the movie and its issues and you can enjoy the film.