Director: George Miller
Cast: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Steve Bisley, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Roger Ward, Tim Burns
Plot: In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, a rogue gang of bikers terrorise small settlements, attracting the wraith of a cop known as Mad Max (Gibson).
Mad Max was not what I expecting in the slightest. My pre-conceptions of the trilogy was a universe set after the fall of civilisation where a rover, named Mad Max, got into different conflicts in this broken down society. So, when the film opened and society was still moderately intact (it is far from modern, yet there are still signs of police and courts), and Mel Gibson was playing a cop, not a rover, I was surprised and a little uncertain of what I was in store for.
Not a lot apparently. It seems that the legend of Mad Max has done a lot better than the actual original film. The apocalyptic wasteland was never really explained. I didn’t expect too much of a background history, because Mad Max was sold as a high-octane action, yet there was hardly any exposition given. If the apocalypse was a bit more extensive, I would have rolled with the idea that humanity and government is long gone. However, because we still had police and vague businesses, I was confused as to what were the rules of this universe. One moment we are being treated to a biker gang, devoid of laws, tearing up ghost towns, not unlike a Wild West setting, but then we are cutting to Mel Gibson and his wife in a beach house. In my eyes, the entire idea of an apocalyptic setting was just a way around a cheap budget. Whenever Miller wants, he can film on an abandoned road and we wouldn’t question the lack of civilisation. I am sure there is more to it than that, but it did strike me as a tad cheap. The tone is meant to come across as bizarre and apocalyptic, but it just feels a little alienating. Both the bad guys and the good guys (Gibson and Samuel notwithstanding), are so hard to connect with or understand. You end up watching this movie, without truly getting into the right frame of mind to appreciate it, which means that you are apathetic to whatever happens later on in the story.
OK, maybe the Mad Max universe was a little ropier than I imagined, but I am the kind of guy who can shove away emotions about the overall series and review a movie as a stand-alone action. Well, Mad Max isn’t much good as a story either. It is completely all over the place and lacks a fixed point. The universe might be devoid of rules, but apparently the story shares the same missing link. We are introduced to a hero cop, in a world without hero cops. Mel Gibson is instantly likeable and he is the best thing about this movie (that and his ‘marry-her-in-a-heartbeat’ wife). Then we are shown a band of bikers, driven mad by this apocalypse world (again, an explanation as to how this depiction of the future made them so crazy would have been nice). They are a bunch of total oddballs. It works for their first few scenes. They make for unique villains, nameless bikers are easily distinguished by their bizarre traits (eg: meowing like a cat), and that one scene where they randomly chase down a couple and beat them senseless is horrifyingly brutal. However, they don’t hold much cop afterwards. The crazy ramblings get tiresome and they begin to fail a lot more than they succeed. After failing to murder their target, because she was protected by an elderly lady with a gun, you begin to stop fearing that they might cause some damage. This is a shame, because at this point, the movie hangs up the action side of things and tries to become a horror thriller. It feels a little like ‘Friday the 13th’ if Jason Voorhees spent the entire movie, messing up his murder attempts.
So anyway, we have these two sides (good and bad, for those struggling to keep up), and the movie clashes them against each other. However, the story seems to just work around them, giving them excuses to fight. Wherever Gibson goes (before he starts hunting them down), the gang of bikers are. It becomes a string of scenes, where Mad Max goes about his business and the bad guys come and mess up his day. It is written very poorly and at some points, I got lost as to what was going on. This was unnecessary, as when you lay out the plot points, there isn’t too much to cover. It seemed like Miller had a vague idea of how he wanted his movie to go, but had no idea how to really go about that, so he just wrote a couple of scenes and added flimsy reasons to explain why those scenes were going on afterwards. Mad Max sometimes seems like it is on the verge of improving, but it never really does, coming across as a bit of a mess. Hopefully, the next two will be a lot better.
Final Verdict: There are classics out there, where I disagree with their status, but few I hate as much as I hated Mad Max. How it got so big remains a mystery to me!