Action Junkie: Mad Max 2 – The Road Warrior

The original title for director George Miller’s follow up to his International hit movie debut, Mad Max, was simply Mad Max 2 when it opened to Australian and Japanese theaters in 1981.  Overseas in the United States it was re-titled for American audiences as The Road Warrior.  Distributors felt no one would see a movie that was a sequel to a film most people in the USA had not seen.  With the Blu-Ray release of the film in 2007 the original title card of Mad Max 2 was restored in place at the beginning of the movie, after the credits a low level build of horns and drums slowly usher us before it.

Using the same graphic technique for the title card of the first film, accompanied by the score, we expect the next shot will present us a widescreen window of whatever wonders are in store for this film, instead we fade to black, and a sardonic low note precedes the withered yet hardened tenure of a narrator’s voice scratching its way onto the audio landscape.  To further dismay our expectations the first image we see is small, a box in the center of the screen recalling a television screen not a theater’s.  What we see in this box is, again a nice twist in expectations, as we are shown for the first shot, unknowingly to a first time viewer, what will also serve as the movie’s final shot, Max standing in the center of the road, cars wrecked around him, his face beaten and bruised, as smoke is superimposed, on a separate level of film, blowing over him.  In these several seconds of time a theme is presented that will follow the viewer throughout the entirety of the movie, expect the unexpected.

In the opening montage of flashback and narration, The Road Warrior immediately establishes for the viewer the most explanation of the post-apocalyptic world the story takes place in than at any other time in the Mad Max trilogy.  Here the slow, sardonic voice of the narrator explains how the world essentially fell apart due to war over oil.  As the narration continues we are fed images of wartime newsreels, namely from World War Two.  This evokes a sense of a time when the world did possibly feel like it was ending.  From newsreel footage we transition into flashback shots of Mad Max, mainly used for audiences unfamiliar with the predecessor.

The beginning montage of exposition ends with Max at the end of the previous film driving at night into the wastelands.  Here he is still rather clean cut, his uniform intact, even if he is overcome with grief and madness.  The shot cuts to an aerial view of a desolate road, setting the spatial tone for the film, wide open space, nothing but desert, wasteland.  No hope as far as the eye can see.  The camera quickly descends from the air like a bird, flying into the road and we cut to black.  In an eye-popping moment, the camera, with a roar of an engine and blast of horns, pulls back from the darkness to a full widescreen shot of Max, in the present, behind the wheel of his V-8 Interceptor.  Using the same framed shot of Max as we saw him last in the flashback, offers a direct comparison to Max as he is now, his hair is unkempt and fraying outward, he is dirty and what we can see of his uniform is tattered and missing a sleeve.  Inside, the car has been gutted and refitted with only the essential needs for living in the post-apocalypse, this includes a dog, who’s just as wild and mangy looking as Max.  The dog excellently represents a duality in Max’s character, we know nothing about the animal, or how he and Max became companions, but he represents signs of a wild creature.  Befriending the dog shows that while Max embraces the wild he still holds desires of family.

Max’s uniform, which we don’t get a view of proper until later in this sequence, is a direct physical representation of his transition as a character because of, and since, the events in, Mad Max. His arm, which was run over by Bubba Zanetti’s motorcycle, is the one missing a sleeve.  Paramedics attending a wound like Max’s would first cut off and pull away his jacket sleeve so as not move a possibly broken arm.  His left leg is fitted with a brace supporting his knee where he was shot.  A wrench hangs from the front of his jacket, ready for engine repairs.  The small cupped shoulder pads used by the MFP have been abandoned and instead over his sleeveless arm, Max has installed a football shoulder pad for protection.  Max has become a part of his environment, not just an adaption to it, which is echoed by the memory of his choice to enter into the wastelands for his means of revenge, and then never leaving.  The irony is that now, since that choice, the world has become nothing but wasteland.  His choice is no longer that, it is a prison that he can never escape from.


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Benjamin Nason is a writer, film-maker and critic from the Pacific Northwest, where he lives with his cat Lulu.

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