Mad Max established a world in a trajectory of desolation, filled with a palette of green and blue that surrounds its rough and grey roads, no longer populated by the familiar middle class and concepts of urbanisation is nowhere to be found, George Miller has crafted a backdrop in the clutch of total downfall, where heroes and villains still exist but a battle close to its resolution, with the latter dominating the playing field with their immoral and wayward sense of purpose, bruising to a pulp those who attain to the ideal standards of the past. Max was one of those heroes, and by the film’s end, has blended into the desolate shadow of his world, a hero masked in vengeance, one that is clearly needed but would further lead the road to society’s sense of self-decay.
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior continues on his tale, with an introductory piece that highlights the film’s more political agendas, detailing the specifics of the clearly disintegrating world. Human fundamentals are now further scarce than what was previously shown in the original film, where water is never in display nor is it desperately desired by society; what was once the Earth’s needed asset have now shifted to oil, where its importance to daily survival is crucial and its presence minimal. Those who seem to survive are always on the move, never deviating from the roads and are on constant alert for those who may attempt to steal their oil, the vehicle becomes just as critical as the element that fuels it.
Much like the world that surrounds our protagonist, Max himself have fallen further from his humble beginnings, now matched in worn-out black leather, a leg brace that maintains an ancient injury, motivated only to survive; now a wanderer and a scavenger, simply living without great sense of purpose, alienating himself from the aches of his tragic past. The first film is crucial in developing empathy for our protagonist, a simple but emotionally resonate history that defines his present existence, to come into The Road Warrior with fresh eyes, unaided by the film’s initial introductory prologue, then one may find themselves slightly more distant to Max, admiring only for his Han Solo-like philosophy but unengaged by the arc that exist since the original film.
Max finds himself in a position of desperation, scavenging only enough to survive, needing much more oil to ensure security and stability, with the help of The Gyro Captain, he is lead to an oil refinery, barricaded by the community that maintains it, a location constantly harassed by thirsty gangs — funnily enough, the same gang that was shown terrorising Max during the film’s introduction. Max’s own hunger for petrol displays his keen ability as an opportunist, which provides him entry into the barricaded facility, although with initial bad terms, his presence would become an opportunity for him to earn petrol and re-ownership of his vehicle — a clear contract that temporarily conveys him with a sense of purpose in his life.
The end goal of the story, however, lies in the desperate escape Max and the community desires from the constant terrorism of the local gang, taking with them within the rig truck, gallons of oil that would sustain them for a lengthy period of time. This climax would become the defining piece of Road Warrior, a feeling of exhilaration and intensity felt in the swiftly pursuing threats of the gang members, a make it or break it scenario where its outcome would metaphorically define the dominating figures of the world, oil is the source of one’s power over society, and if fallen to the wasteful and selfish hands of the pursuing gang, then what chance would there be for those who want to escape from such terror.
Miller conveys all of this through great subtlety, buried beneath its grand set-pieces, unwilling to intrude with the director’s primary concerns — to engage and swallow the audiences through the world he has created and the mechanic chaos that define it. Vehicles collide with one another in a manner that appears to true to life, and that is because it is, displaying to his audience, accompanied by great confidence, the inevitable destruction that arises from greed. These gang members will stop at nothing from attaining their personal desires, even if it means life to be spared. Through their hunger for speed, they are constantly viewed at the tipping point of control, when successful, their velocity is deadly — as evidenced in the fractured condition of Max after his attempt to escape – but when faced with an unfortunate circumstances and pairing it with a decrease in total control, their pitfall fates would seem sealed.
The flaws that exist within Miller’s debut were sourced from the swelling emotions of his chosen score, the melodramatics that sporadically occur, and the disjointed nature of its pacing; failing to earn the emotional core that drives the fate of its protagonist. The Road Warrior, as stated before, demonstrates a filmmaker with great reassurance of his vision, confident in the choices that his protagonist would endure, a sense of character development that may ultimately feel stagnant but sharp in its emphasis of the film’s themes. The film no longer attains that aura of experimentation due to the stability of Miller’s direction, however, one can note if one is able to pull themselves out of the film and objectively view its art and costume design; characters now donning leather outfits and erratic punk-inspired haircuts, an influential choice that would become the defining visual quality of the series, capturing that sense of theatricality and rage that requires no logicality to stamp its intentions on the audience. A visual flair that is accompanied with musical compositions by Brian May, who was also responsible for the efforts of the first film, but now taking on an aesthetic that is fitting to its established world and wandering residents, now uncompromising in its tackling of developing emotions within the narrative, consistently efficient that helped maintain the film’s lasting appeal.
The Road Warrior was viewed as a thriving point in Miller’s career, achieving commercial success that thrusted him deeply into the Hollywood system. Decades since its release, the film has developed a strong cult following and have proven influential in the post-apocalyptic genre, sparking many imitators that unfortunately were unable to capture the same appeal.