The Road Warrior

Aside from featuring super-racist Mel Gibson and a good deal of “leather daddy” material, The Road Warrior is one of my favorite post-apocalyptic pieces of cinema. For all its explosions, extensive car chases, and its wasteland refinery/camp, The Road Warrior is actually a pretty small film. Its cast isn’t very large; it contains only a few sets, and doesn’t have a ton of dialogue. There’s definitely exposition and exchanges between characters, but the film relies heavily on action to tell its tale. The beginning scene features no dialogue, making the characters dependent on body language to explain the situation and what a fantastic opening scene it is. It’s an awesome car chase, ending with Max (Mel Gibson) stealing gas from an overturned vehicle while a leather-clad punk rocker and his underage boy toy watch angrily from a distance.

Following the events in Mad Max, The Road Warrior picks up the tale in a desert wasteland, where gangs control the highways and survival of the fittest rules. After his initial run-in with the pseudo-punk motor gang, Max takes his Ford Falcon to a remote ranch where he encounters The Gyro Captain, a wormy man with a makeshift helicopter. After Max takes him prisoner, he learns of the refinery compound, meets the Feral kid with amazing boomerang skills (watch for the scene where the boomerang cuts off somebody’s fingers), and cuts a deal with the extremely Scandinavian oil refiners, helping them move their fuel to the coast and escape the evil Lord Humungus’ gang. Humungus is another discussion altogether – a bald monster wearing a hockey mask the entire film. The only hope the compound’s residents have is Max, the one man capable of aiding their escape.

Aside from Max’s outfit, which is pretty sweet for an older science fiction nightmare, the costumes are ridiculous. That doesn’t mean they don’t work, but Nordic looking people in fully white superhero outfits and chap wearing bandits is a little silly, not to mention homoerotic in regards to Humungus’ gang. The gang isn’t necessarily gay, but their sexuality does seem to mirror what happens in prison – it’s a free for all. There’s a pretty vile rape scene viewed through a pair of binoculars that makes me think this, combined with the mohawk sporting villain Wez’s androgynous adolescent companion, or fuck toy if you want to be nasty about it. Sexual preference is gone, possibly a nod by director and co-writer George Miller regarding sexual preference being a social construct. Maybe it’s like Michel Foucault discusses in Discipline and Punish, where labels such as homo and heterosexual were constructs created in the last few hundred years. According to Foucault, in the past a person wasn’t defined by their sexual preference but rather by their actions. One engaging in sodomy was a sodomite, which was frowned upon. The act was suspect, not the person. Perhaps this loss of sexual categories disappears when society does. If this was the intention of the creators, their subtext is quite interesting.

The car chases in the film, especially the final one where Max is trying to transport a fuel tanker for the refiners, is unparalleled in film. Movies like Bullitt or Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof are definitely rivals, but the choice of vehicles and composition of the scenes make it distinct. The car crashes are sure to win the approval of any NASCAR fan and the violence and intensity of the scene are one reason I enjoy this film so much. Bodies are mutilated, cars are destroyed, and there’s even a helicopter giving an aerial view of the action. The scene’s composition is fantastic and something not seen in contemporary chase films.

One of the main reasons I’m so drawn to The Road Warrior isn’t its homoeroticism or amazing car chases, but the decrepit world Miller creates. I said before it’s “survival of the fittest,” and this is true. Food is scarce (Max eats dog food), fuel is even rarer, and trust is uncommon. Even the refiners trusting Max is contingent on his willingness to transport their fuel. The bunker the refiners live in is makeshift, using old tires and flamethrowers to subdue the daring gang. I’m a big fan of dystopias and post-apocalyptic film and The Road Warrior is an excellent example of the genre. It’s such a shame Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome is such an awful film. Even the first 25 minutes or so, which are highly entertaining, can’t even hold a torch to the second in the Mad Max trilogy.

The film was a big success, costing only $4 million to produce and earning over $25 million domestically. Filmed in the Broken Hills desert in New South Wales, the special features on the DVD discuss the intensity of filming, with the temperature being quite oppressive and the crew’s disconnection from society being rough. It’s the perfect location for a film of this kind; a kind of post-apocalyptic western, incorporating the best of both science fiction and Wild West movies.

I highly advise avoiding Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome if possible. It’s not a good sequel to this and why waste your time with a mediocre Mel Gibson film. What else could you want from the series? The first film is excellent and The Road Warrior is great. For what the filmmakers had to work with, they crafted a stellar visual piece, teeming with clever editing, a competent score, good acting and highly intense action. However, if you can’t see the blatant homoeroticism in the film I’m surprised. This shouldn’t discourage you though. Everything else good about The Road Warrior makes this a detail that works in its favor. It has the right amount of corniness, making it even more fun than it would without the silly costumes.

Here’s the trailer

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