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“Mad Max” – Not What You Think It Is

Mad Max
Year: 1979
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Director: George Miller
Stars: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Byrne

A vengeful Australian policeman sets out to avenge his partner, his wife and his son.

After watching the recent trailer for Mad Max: Fury Road I was excited enough to go back and watch George Miller’s three Mad Max movies. The Road Warrior is still the classic apogee of post-apocalyptic action but Mad Max was different.  It occured to me that it had either been so long since watching Mad Max that I’d forgotten everything about it or that I’d never actually seen it before because Mad Max was not the movie I thought it was.

It’s Not Post-Apocalyptic

madmax7Mad Max 2 is such a significant and well-loved film that people simply assume that its predecessor is set in the same post-apocalyptic universe.  Oh, it’s the same world that Mad Max takes place in, only between the two films is when “the apocalypse” happened.  The reason that The Road Warrior is one of the rare instances of the sequel being superior to the original simply because it is a completely different movie.  I’m not alone in foolishly assuming that Mad Max has the same post-apocalyptic setting as its sequel – the film is constantly described as “post-apocalyptic” and appears far too often alongside The Road Warrior as one of the best post-apocalyptic films of all time.

Wikipedia describes Mad Max as taking place “In a dystopian future Australia” which I suppose is close enough.  I would describe the setting of Mad Max as “almost dystopia.”  It is a moderately terrifying near-future where government and society has only begun to break down.  There is no strong government control but nor has society completely fallen into the hands of lawlessness.  Cruel motorcycle gangs have taken over the roads of Australia’s outback.  Their control of the highways is not uncontested though; Main Force Patrol, an out-run police force, has been created to patrol the lands to uphold the remains of law and justice.

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It’s Much Darker

madmax2Like The Road Warrior the central focus of Mad Max are high speed car battles.   Max Rockstansky )Mel Gibson) is the MFP’s top pursuit man – the film dealing with his battle against a road gang called The Acolytes.  While the car chases are very bit as exciting (though not as imaginative) as The Road Warrior there are certainly a lot darker things afoot.  To put it this way, The Road Warrior opens with a brief introduction where we learn that Max lost his family and has seen some rough things that turned him into a hollow shell of a human.  Mad Max gives us that rough backstory.

We see this gang destroy a young couple’s car, killing the guy and savagely raping the woman.  We see another MFP officer, Goose, driven off the road and severally burned beyond recognition while trapped in his vehicle.  Max’s wife Jessie is harassed by this gang and then violently run down while carrying her infant son.  After the murder of his family.  Max goes out for revenge and kills the entire gang.

madmax5Mad Max almost seems to revel in its brutality, leading to a very polarizing reaction from critics.  Australian film producer Philip Adams said of the film that it had “all the emotional uplift of Mein Kampt” and the movie would be “a special favorite of rapists, sadists, child murderers and incipient [Charles] Mansons.”  However Variety praised the work of a first time director and Mad Max won several awards that year from both the Australian Film Institue and the American Film Institute.  Yes, the film is violent and brutal but most seem to understand that it’s not violence without purpose.

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About The Author
Matthew Coats
Matthew Coats

Formerly known under the pseudonym of Alex Jowski.
Site owner, movie aficionado, and film school grad. Matthew Coats presents reviews, some written, some as vlogs, and some as weekly shows, for a variety of different movies and television shows. After years of struggling to get his own projects off the ground amidst the normal routine of living, Matthew Coats decided to create a site in order to share and promote movie reviews, video games and much much more from talented and original people all across the internet.

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