I moonlight as a writer over at Movie Moron, and when I found out my pal and fellow writer David Williams (DNWilliams) hadn’t seen the original Mad Max trilogy,
I shot him in the heart I insisted that he watch them so we could geek out together.
Now he’s racing to finish them before the fourth installment FURY ROAD (all CAPS mandatory) hits theaters this Friday. This is the result. Enjoy!
(for part one of this series, CLICK HERE)
DJ: Still waking up.
(Sent at 5:04 AM on Sunday)
DNW: I’m not a morning person, I sympathize.
DJ: Plus I’m doing a diet so I’m calorie starved and grumpy as hell.
DNW: I should be watching my food right now, trying to hit the gym a bit, I suck at it.
DJ: Gotta be lean and mean when the Pockylypse happens (a reference you’ll get when you watch Thunderdome).
DNW: Pockylypse sounds pretty freaky
DJ: You know who doesn’t diet? Mad Fucking Max.
DNW: Everything is pretty scarce in his world as it is.
DJ: In the space between movies they’ve gone from “terrible recession full of nutjobs” to “scavenging in the desert for oil” and they justify it with a little intro montage with voice-over.
DNW: That info dump is perfect.
DJ: It’s a jump that confused me a bit when I was younger, honestly, but that’s because I saw Thunderdome on TV first then went back and watched the first two. But yeah, I love the idea that each time you tune in to a new Mad Max film you’re going to see the next stage of a falling society.
DNW: If it weren’t ostensibly a sequel they could dump you right in, but they have to present that connective tissue really, because it is quite a departure. Like I mentioned last time around though, the expository montage at the beginning really helps The Road Warrior to work as a standalone movie.
DJ: But yeah, Road Warrior reminds me of Evil Dead 2 in that regard. They have that great intro to catch you up … and flat out lie to you about the first one to retcon the details. I wonder if that’s a bit what happened here. “I wonder if we can sell them on the fact this is the same world …” They do say in the intro that Max wanders into the desert, so maybe the original idea was that the desert was worse and it was hard to travel into the city areas.
DNW: I feel like with Mad Max, because of how self-contained they seem to be, you can pretty much get away with it. But yeah, the tonal shift and the change of setting makes The Road Warrior jump up notch right away.
DJ: Instead of slight western influence they almost go full Western. After the intro we jump into the story mid-chase, which is great.
DJ: Keep it. Own it.
DNW: And you’re right, there’s the sense that what happened in the previous movie has had a lasting effect. I also enjoy the fact that he’s picked up a dog, not just because dogs are great, but because the fact that he lost everything and picked up a companion signals that he’s that same guy, somewhere.
DJ: Yep. It’s a simple, subtle stroke of genius. He wants to be good. You also see it later with the feral kid … he shows compassion but in a gruff way … so I was looking up the mohawked villain’s name on IMDB and I found this DVD cover photo with the dumbest quote line ever:
DNW: Brilliant. “Apocalypse Wow” was right there, but this guy was like “no, I’m better than that.”
DJ: Hahahaha, villain’s name was Wez, by the way.
DNW: Not as great a name as Toecutter, is it?
DJ: But Wez is basically Toecutter on crack, with an ’80s punk hairdo, and Max just stands up to him like he’s nothing. It’s Miller going “trust me, this ain’t the same movie, shit’s gonna go down before that last fifteen minutes.”
DNW: I love his look. My appreciation of these films is mostly on a visual level, and whoever decided a mohawk, part of an American Football uniform, and feathers was the way to go has my respect.
DJ: Wez backs down while Max collects gasoline in a bike helmet that failed to save anyone’s life. I love the stories and character work in these films (surprisingly subtle and done with absolutely no back story which is astonishing) but yeah the look and general vibe really make them the most memorable.
DNW: It’s a bit New Romantics as well, like if Adam Ant and Tim Tebow had a baby. Probably not a great reference, but he’s one of the few American Football players whose name I know.
DJ: And I only know his name and there was some controversy that he prayed or something like that … I have no idea what he did or who he plays for. Also, I have no idea what New Romantics is or who Adam Ant is … so pretty much total fail on my part to get that reference. And you tried so hard!
DNW: I think these films live and die on their worldbuilding and atmosphere, which I’m totally cool with. The plots are minimal, but that minimalism works with the right approach, and this film is more interested with capturing your imagination than anything else.
DJ: Agreed on the color contrast with the good guys. I think the wild costumes are an outpouring of the craziness. They’re similar enough that it’s kind of tribal, but different enough to know they put a LOT of thought and effort into how they come off to new people. Mostly to strike fear … but also bright and colorful and kind of dandy-ish almost.
DJ: So after the Wez confrontation, we follow Max to meet another iconic character: The Gyro Captain. Who is so awesome and iconic, when the same actor shows up in Thunderdome, also with a flying machine, but playing a completely different character you’re going to be VERY confused. I sure was.
DNW: Max does the impressive snake-snatch thing, and then yeah, we meet this guy. I love him, he’s such a zany presence. I retroactively recognized him as The Trainman (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGl_W_7tfNI) from The Matrix – he’s WAY too distinctive to play multiple roles
DNW: Dude was also in Star Wars, so you know he makes a mint signing a whole bunch of stuff on the convention circuit. The Gyro Captain owns though, not to harp on the costumes again but he has a very iconic look. Also, he manages to stand out as the guy that looks like he walked in from a cartoon in a movie filled with characters that seem to have walked in from a cartoon. The lankiness, the goggles, everything.
DJ: Yep. And even though he’s kind of a buffoon you also get a sense that he’s smart enough to survive. The snake thing would work with anyone but Max.
DNW: You just have to assume that everyone in this movie has a a skill set of some kind, or else they’d be dead or will die.
DJ: So cute, it has to die.
DNW: Didn’t even have a name, poor thing. It’s so weird that I saw The Rover before either of these films, because the Mad Max influence is so strong.
DJ: Yeah, pretty much all Ozploitation owes something to Max, especially ones about a rogue dude in a post-apocalyptic world.
DNW: Right, I can’t claim to have been exposed to that sub-genre really, but it’s striking how much that movie is like Mad Max 2.5.
DJ: Then we get a long sequence where our hero camps out on mountain and watches a new movie unfold on the valley before him, with huge well-orchestrated action scenes that we see in wide screen that makes me shudder when I think about what a nightmare it must have been to organize for those filmmakers.
DJ: It’s surprising that it works at all, to sideline your hero like that … but it does. And these character moments like the binoculars and the tin of dog food are totally part of the reason why.
DNW: I like that Max can be along for the ride, as opposed to always the driving force. It seems like Fury Road is going to be that way to an extent. It’s also a smart thing to do, the crazy world Max lives in should throw him into situations.
DJ: Even though he’s so capable he’s still out of his element.
DNW: Is there anything better than a hero being in over his head? Indiana Jones style.
DJ: I was just gonna say Indiana Jones
DNW: So there’s this post-apocalyptic gated community that Max finds himself in, are we there yet?
DJ: Yep. And shit is so terrible that Max is willing to make a run for it through all that insanity just go fill up his gas tank. And his mad dash gets some folks killed. No one trust him of course. Not even the hot Amazon lady.
DNW: This whole setup is not like anything you’d have seen in the first movie.
DJ: It feels right but it’s a whole new plot structure.
DNW: It’s a strikingly different vision of the future that feels like it was borne out of what was setup previously, but when you think back to Max’s virtually contemporary home life in the last movie you realize what a strong move away from that all of this is.
DJ: Around here we get our first close up look at Lord Humungus, who is just so freaking awesome, and the first of the masked villains (who we’ll see again in Thunderdome and Fury Road).
DJ: NO. UNACCEPTABLE.
But he’s so iconic he inspired glorified fan films!
DNW: I was more impressed with the stuff around him than I was by the character himself. the people-strapped to the front of cars, the weird and wonderful gang members…
DJ: The bean-counter dude who gets his fingers sliced off by the Feral Kid and everyone laughs at him.
DNW: Yes, that! What a dumbass. The boomerang was lodged in someone’s head MOMENTS before.
DJ: I love the sex dungeon vibe though … there is a sexual undertone to all of these hyper violent male tribes though (hence why Miller is addressing it head on in Fury Road): Toecutter gets super touchy feely, Wez has his bleached blonde boy toy, Humungus has his tight abs and leather speedo.
DNW: Maybe I shouldn’t have said “too Sex Dungeon”, but more “only Sex Dungeon”. It’s the range of influences working together that makes the other stuff work for me, whereas this wouldn’t feel out of place in a gay panic scene from a 2000s teen sex comedy, it’s Sex Dungeon and only Sex Dungeon.
DJ: I can see that. But it also makes him stand out. Everyone else is eclectic, he’s a single driving force of muscle and greased-up sex.
DNW: Right, he needs to be separated in some fashion, sure.
DJ: Just watching that clip it’s easy to see what makes this movie stand out. The plot is so simple: 1. good guys have oil, bad guys want it. 2. Max can help them escape with fuel. 3. Max helps but gets wounded. 4. Max helps them escape again. END. But all the moments are stretched out and filled with little beats.
DNW: That’s part of the reason I find it hard to talk about in anything other than aesthetic terms. The plot is 100% in service of the vibe.
DJ: When Humungus threatens them you’ve got the little bits where Wez kills a rabbit for no reason. Then the feral kid kills Wez’s boy toy, which leads to this little dark comedy break where the bean counter gets his fingers cut off and everyone takes a break to laugh at him … including himself. This is a lived-in world, with all these character dynamics behind the scenes.
Uh oh. Someone took Mel Gibson’s rant and put it over Lord Humungus’s dialog. And it’s creepy how well it works.
DNW: Of course they did. It’s actually a better villain speech. “THE GAME IS OVER, LET THE NEW GAMES BEGIN!”
DJ: So Max sneaks out of the compound to steal the tanker truck he found earlier, returns, and there’s a big battle where Wez gets trapped in the compound and no one is able to kill him. A scene that was totally stolen by Waterworld. Then Max tries to flee (again, a more brutal version of him fleeing his destiny with his wife in the first one) and gets his ass kicked and his car blown up. Then the cool helicopter shot.
DNW: The “Max gets wounded” part gave me my favorite part of the whole movie, which is that shot of him flying with the landscape moving beneath his head. It’s SO cool, it’s artistic as hell in the midst of all this straight-forward action stuff, you’ve got this really abstract moment, it’s portraying the reality of the situation, but it reads like a dream sequence.
DJ: Yep. And it works because he’s so dazed. And the audience is taken aback because he’s been so capable up til now and just got his ass handed to him.
DNW: Rock bottom for Rockatansky.
DJ: He’s got no other play. He’s forced into being a hero.
DNW: I’m re-watching it now, it’s really great. Miller really isn’t a afraid of having a lot going on visually, it’s the polar opposite of what he’s doing with narrative.
DNW: Trucks, bikes, flying machines, explosions, crashes, feral kid having to grab a bullet from the front of a vehicle…
DJ: The real reason all the action works so well is that they carry through the character stuff. When the feral kid is going for the shotgun shell, that’s not just a random plot moment, it calls back to the music box when he’s scared of it. He’s a wild child, buthe’s totally still just a kid.
DNW: The 80s loved that kid sidekick thing. Newt, Short Round…
DJ: There’s like ten kid sidekicks in Thunderdome.
DNW: Haha. George “Double Down” Miller.
DJ: Then we get the final chase scene to end all chase scenes. How do you feel about the final reveal at the end. The “ole switcheroo”
DNW: The reveal that the kid is the narrator you mean?
DJ: That the oil was in the school bus.
DNW: Oh, that was of less consequence to me, the oil is the MacGuffin here, I’d stopped worrying about it by that point.
DJ: But it plays into Max’s character, right?
DNW: How so?
DJ: I mean, if he knew about it than he’s super selfless and a “good man” again. If he didn’t, they totally screwed him over. I think the idea is that he knew about it (it’s been a while since I’ve seen that part).
DNW: Huh. I’d need a re-watch to look at it from that perspective, I think. Either way, he’s putting himself out there to help these guys, I don’t think his heroism is in much doubt.
DJ: It’s got some issues plot-wise for sure (why replace it with sand when that would just make them go slower … but that cinematic reveal of the sand pouring out is fantastic). But he could just be putting himself out as a Hail Mary. What else choice does he have, to sit there while they leave and let Humungus come get him?
DNW: Fair point.
DJ: I need to watch it again, but that’s been my take on it for years, that Max knew about it and it was sort of his redemption. I’m totally gonna watch all three again this week before Fury Road. Best week ever.
DNW: I’m glad I’m catching up on these, because I’d probably have skipped Fury Road in theaters otherwise, and it looks like a treat.
DJ: Yay! I’ll take the honor of forcing you to watch them.
DNW: Haha, it’s one of those List of Shame movies that I feel like I should’ve checked out long ago. But yeah, credit goes to you for kicking it up to the top of the list.
DJ: Any final thoughts?
DNW: Well I kind of ruined my take on these films up to this point by opening with it in the last recap, but this works for me as a film all on its own, with or without being part of a series, and it’s a notably stronger vision from Miller, who had a pretty strong vision to start with. It’s also the movie I wanted/expected the first film to be. It’s almost the sequel to a film we didn’t quite see.
DJ: Yep, I think that’s the general take from most audiences as well. And it looks like Fury Road is the movie we’ve all built Road Warrior up to be in our nostalgic minds in a lot of ways.
DNW: Excellent dude, thanks. Will let you know when I’m beyond Thunderdome.