Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior is a vast improvement over the first film not because it sheds light on important subjects, or fixes what went wrong with the characters, but because it is a flat-out roller coaster ride through the barren wastelands of Australia, where set piece after set piece piles on top of each other so spectacularly until, almost literally, everything is destroyed.
This is one of the great action movies, with a climactic chase sequence that could easily rival that of The French Connection (1971) or Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981) in directness of vision and quality of the stunts. There is so much to see, in every corner of the frame, and the stunts are executed with so much panache and professionalism that it doesn’t matter that the main characters are dull and the plot hangs by a thread.
Once again, Max (Mel Gibson) is a solitary killjoy. After the events of the first film, he traverses the lonely outback in his black muscle car, seemingly at a loss for things to do. He chases down a random gang and spots that a tanker truck has died down just off the road.
Desperately in need of gas (the economy of his car must be atrocious), he encounters a peculiar gyro-copter pilot (Bruce Spence) with an affinity for snakes and follows him to a remote oil pumping outpost, guarded by a tribe of neo-Amazonian gladiators. The outpost is surrounded by a massive gang of leather-clad musclemen with mohawk haircuts and a leader who looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger wearing a Jason Voorhees’ hockey mask. They want the oil and are willing to decimate everyone for it.
You see, in this futuristic world, gasoline has become the most precious commodity because it runs vehicles and equipment. Back in the 1980s, when this movie was made, this no doubt seemed like the path the world had chosen for itself. But the times have changed, and ideas like these have become outdated. Today, the future of gasoline is uncertain, and if the world was ever going to need a precious commodity after an apocalypse it’d be technology or, of course, money. Hybrid cars (and now hybrid planes) are pushing gasoline to the brink.
Max approaches the gladiators for gas. They regard him with as much love as they would a one-eyed troll. Before they can kill him, however, the mohawk gang returns and announces an ultimatum: Surrender the outpost and walk away unscathed, or stay and fight, and be guaranteed death. They are given one day to decide.
Now it’s a race against the clock to smuggle an oil tanker from within the compound to a safe haven two thousand miles away to the coast, all before the gang returns. Max remembers something crucial: The broken down truck from the start of the movie. It will haul the tanker. He offers to retrieve it in exchange for gas. He gets his wish.
This sets up the first of many breathtaking action set pieces in which Max hurtles the giant truck through barricades of bodies and cars, often with stunt people throwing themselves in every direction to either avoid or slam into him. The carnage inflicted by this truck is preposterous, and in a lesser movie might have looked downright ridiculous. But the costumery of the leather gang is delicious to a fault. The staging and camerawork are effortless. The panoramic sandy vistas of the outback are gorgeous in all their nothingness. There is so much action it becomes the story.
The central dilemma of Max in the movie boils down to whether he will lead the exodus of the tribe to the idyllic coast. All he wants is his gas, nothing more. He’s not interested in involving himself with troubled hoarders. But heroes must always be attacked by their conscience, and before long Max is out on the desert highways again, ramming and slamming and crashing.
Some might grumble that the climactic chase, which spans the last twenty-or-so minutes of The Road Warrior, goes on for too long. They have a case. But when the action is this grand, this crazy, this outlandishly decadent, you can only sit back and enjoy the sheer force of the destruction while your arm struggles to bring your watch to your eyes for a time check.
Best Moment | The climactic chase sequence. Absolutely brilliant high-speed filmmaking.
Worst Moment | Some of the scenes involving the young feral boy. He doesn’t add much to the story.