In an undecided future, the streets of Australia are ravaged by crime and gang violence. One of these occurrences belongs to biker Nightrider, who just killed a cop and is being pursued by every policeman in the state. He easily evades them all, until he meets up with Max, a better driver than him. After Nightrider (and his punk girlfriend) are killed on the road, a gang of motorcycle nutbags led by Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his equally unhinged sidekick Johnny. Toecutter isn’t happy about what happened to Nightrider, so he begins his quest for vengeance, first burning alive Max’s partner Jim (Steve Bisley), then stalking his family until he runs over and kills Max’s wife and child. This is the last straw, and Max becomes a roving beast of vengeance, and soon the bikers will find out Max ain’t nothing to fuck with.
I have reviewed a ton of Australian exploitation movies, or Ozploitation as they’re more commonly known. This movie technically falls under the same category, as it is an action exploitation film done on a very low-budget and guerilla style. But of course, Mad Max created a sensation, and it’s owed to these two things: First, George Miller’s directing style. He made a very wise choice in placing the camera at low angles during the chase sequences, making you feel like you’re right there. The whole movie is perfectly directed, not only with a lot of action, but with it’s very intimate scenes as well. Also, like most Australian films, the movie fetishises the car racing to the point where we see the cars as quasi-sexual objects. Locations are very well used as well, with long stretches of roads that really look abandoned, and make the post-apocalyptic feeling more real. There’s also a very over-the-top, cartoony feel to the movie, with the villains over-acting ridiculously, and extreme close-ups of eyeballs popping out before violent car crashes that make me recall Roger Rabbit.
The second reason the movie was such a huge success is Mel Gibson. It was one of his first roles, and he’s a perfect leading man: good-looking, romantic and realistic. He’s not the brooding depressing hero of The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome, he’s still a normal man who doesn’t know how to deal with his emotions. Also great in her role is Joanne Samuel as Jessie, Max’s wife. She’s beautiful and delicate, and contrasts the violent over-the-top nature of the rest of the film. Her death means the end of normality, a normality that would never return, not just to this film, but to the sequels.
\The Road Warrior came out two years later and is a superior sequel in most accounts, although I must admit I find Max a more sympathetic character in this film. But then again, I’d probably feel the same way if it happened to me. Beyond Thunderdome is inferior but still an interesting film. Both will be reviewed in the future. For now though, revisit this action classic. You won’t be disappointed.