The Test of Time: The Road Warrior (Mad Max 2) (1981)

Does the George Miller classic The Road Warrior – also known as Mad Max 2 in some countries – stand the test of time?

Last Updated on May 29, 2024

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they continue to be must see? So…the point of this here column is how a film stands against the Test of Time, if the thing holds up for a modern horror audience.

Director: George Miller
Starring: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, and Vernon Wells

So finally…after a lonnnnggg 30 year wait…a new MAD MAX flick is upon us. F*ck yes. Of all the movie franchises that I’ve wanted more from, this is it. Thankfully, some 22-year-old Axe Soap commercial director isn’t at the helm of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. No, this is a rare case where the original man, the man with vision, the man who transformed the post-apocalyptic genre, the man who created Max is back in the big boy seat. My only hope is that MAD MAX: FURY ROAD kills it and that Tom Hardy makes Max his own. Dude has big leather boots to fill.

I grew up with the post-apocalyptic action film THE ROAD WARRIOR (sorry other countries, can’t call it MAD MAX 2), and I’ve seen it an embarrassing amount of times. It’s one of my Holy Grails, one of those films that no matter how many times I watch, the entertainment never dwindles. It’s one of those…shit…I guess I’ve already spilled what I think about THE ROAD WARRIOR, but can it stand up to the Test of Time?

Under the examination: THE ROAD WARRIOR.

Nightmare quality.

THE STORY: In one of the rare cases of a sequel not really being a sequel (but it is) and being better than the original (but it is), we find former cop and former family man Max no longer living in a scummy Australian town overrun by a biker gang. Since MAD MAX, the world has apparently ended as countries (tribes) blew up everything over their greed for oil. Well that sucks. Good thing that Max somehow survived and he’s still out there driving around that beast called the Interceptor. Unfortunately, he’s not the only one who survived. Those still alive continue to kill for the black gold. Without normal society, humanity has been reduced to savagery. The really bad ones (led by The Humungus) wear black leather (they all love the kink), and the good ones (led by Pappagallo) wear a lot of white. In the middle comes Max, who only wants gasoline. He tries to help the good, but when the shit gets nasty and Max loses his vehicle, he has no choice to be good once again.  

Good thing he sports that big shoulder pad. 

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP:  As I already blew in the introduction, THE ROAD WARRIOR is one of those films that I’ve been watching…well, forever. I’ve owned a few VHS copies, a DVD, and now that fancy tin Blu Ray trilogy set. I haven’t bought many Blu Rays, but what I have bought were because I wanted to see the film as crisp and quality as possible. And thank you, Warner Bros, because the film has never looked or sounded better. The engines scream with a new level of ferocity, and black leather never looked so uncomfortable to wear in the desert. 

Honestly, I dig THE ROAD WARRIOR so much that I don’t know where to begin. Max? The balls to the wall action sequences? Vicious gang leader The Humungus? The skinny Gyro Captain with the big spoon? That nutty second in command guy? That weird kid with the killer boomerang? The fact it defined an entire genre? The fact few other films can match its kinetic energy? You get the point. 

He should have showed his spoon.

Let’s start with our hero, if we can even call him that. Max is a man haunted by his past, a man without alliances (beyond his dog), a man who still manages to look like a badass while sporting a knee brace. Played to perfection by Gibson here, he’s part Sex Pistols roadie, part Clint Eastwood (if shorter and a love for the Three Stooges). The man doesn’t need to say much and he shouldn’t. His actions, his Interceptor, speak for him. And that’s what makes him a great character. He’s a survivor as the narrator states: “And in this maelstrom of decay, ordinary men were battered and smashed… men like Max… the warrior Max.” 

Best bad guy ever. 

The old adage that a good dude is only as good as the bad dude really applies with THE ROAD WARRIOR. Ok, so the Humungus (“the ayatollah of rock-and-rollah”) lacks the wit of The Joker or the brains of Lecter, but has anyone looked more frightening and rock n’roll than him? He’s Jason Voorhees the WWE Wrestler, though a shit ton scarier than anything Vince McMahon could dream up. Thankfully, actor Kiell Nilsson didn’t just play the muscle man. He shows brains and reasonability (to a point) by giving Pappagallo and the good guys options, not just a slaughter. That makes him interesting. And like a good Bond villain, his henchman Wez (Vernon Wells), the guy with the Mohawk, is perfectly crazy. He could be the most frightening individual to ever wear chaps, let alone appear on screen. His level of intensity is… beyond anything seen since.

And then there are the vehicles. Now I’m no car nut, I could not care less about car shows, I don’t like the smell of oil in the morning, and my hands are too damn big to work on some little engine. However, the insane vehicles are the real star of this movie. The junkyard mentality to the various rigs is perfect…like a good Tom Waits song. You don’t really know the ingredients, but it looks (and sounds) fantastic. From Max’s car to Pappagallo’s cylinder looking thing, it all equals iconic visual horsepower.

I hope they have hybrids in the new movie.

Oh, my favorite scenes: That whole semi-truck sequence (nothing not to love), Max and Gyro Captain’s game of who has the bigger looking glass, any time Wez gets nutty onscreen, and the opening sequence…just to name a few. 

WHAT BLOWS NOW: I gained a little perspective on THE ROAD WARRIOR by forcing one of my classes to watch it (and write an essay over it). For this new generation who had never met Max before, many couldn’t follow it. They bitched about the effects looking old, and they couldn’t understand anything anyone said. Some trivial bitches could add up to a few rust spots on the fender, but I can’t see them. The film does look old, but so what? It is. The characters aren’t given a lot of dialogue or really any character development. Could they have been deeper? Sure. Could they have filled all that screen time with more conversations about how tough it is to live out on the Wasteland? Sure. But that’s not the point.

She blends in well. 

THE VERDICT: While MAD MAX: FURY ROAD looks to really double down on insanity, it’s that very feature, the insanity, the adrenaline, that really makes THE ROAD WARRIOR freakin’ great. It isn’t still just a badass movie, it remains THE post-apocalyptic movie. THE standard for vehicle action. I don’t expect MAD MAX: FURY ROAD to surpass the THE ROAD WARRIOR in any way, but a movie geek can only hope that it maintains the legacy and delivers some madness to a new generation (and might at least surpass MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME). 



Even the Ruler of the Wasteland needs a touchup.

Source: Arrow in the Head

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