Mad Max 2
aka The Road Warrior
Mad Max 2
was renamed The Road Warrior
for its U.S. release because the first movie did not have enough name value, not enough people had seen it.
A black and white cropped montage of newsreel footage explains that two mighty nations fighting over oil set off a world war that destroyed almost everything. Machines and industries fell, cities crumbled. Only those left with working machines maintained power and thus road gangs took over society. We continue into clips from the first movie
also in black and white reminding us how Max lost his wife and child, but the narrator tells us that this is the story of how he finds redemption in the wasteland and learns to live again.
Then we smash cut to full color, widescreen, racing down a desert highway. It’s a good indicator of the tone. Max is still driving the black Pursuit Special from the first movie and he’s dodging some of those road gangs who seek to kill him and steal whatever he has. He escapes and finds the wreckage of a semi truck still dripping gasoline and he starts setting up drip pans to catch the precious juice.
The first half hour of the movie does a good job of showing us the nature of the world without anyone saying anything. Certainly Max is tight-lipped. He finds the Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence) out in the desert with a rickety helicopter and a snake to guard his stuff. When Max turns the tables on him, the Captain offers up the location of a fuel depot nearby. They go to spy on it and find an armored fortress that is pumping oil and is under siege from the local warlords on a daily basis.
When a couple of people from the fortress try to slip through the siege forces in a car they are attacked and killed quickly. But one is left alive and Max sees an opportunity when the raiders retreat for a while. He saves the man and takes him to the depot and offers his life in exchange for full tanks of gas. But they don’t trust him and take him prisoner. The man dies and Max is told whatever agreement you had with him, died with him.
The depot is run by Papagallo (Mike Preston) who runs a nice oasis but fiercely defends it against the raiders. Lord Humungus (Kjell Nilsson) leads the raiders trying to break into the depot. His main “war dog” is Wez (Vernon Wells) and the gang even has an announcer called the Toadie (Max Phipps) who gives Humungus a big boxing or wrestling style intro. The whole movie is filled with colorful characters, such as the Feral Kid (Emil Minty) who only speaks in grunts but carries a razor sharp boomerang. When he plants it in the head of Wez’s boyfriend, the war dog becomes unhinged.
Max sits back and watches the situation unfold, again waiting for opportunity. He realizes the folks in the oasis are planning to take all their refined petrol and make a break for it, leaving the desert wasteland and heading for the ocean, a promised land described by a couple of postcards they have. He says he saw a broken down semi truck that could haul their gas for them, and he’ll brave the raiders outside to retrieve it in exchange for his freedom and full tanks of gas, which sets up another action sequence of road mayhem which ends in success.
By this time the Gyro Captain has joined the folks at the depot, the Feral Kid has taken a liking to Max, and Papagallo wants Max to join their tribe and drive the tanker truck. Max refuses, preferring to stay in the wasteland. Papagallo can’t understand his choice and I suppose I don’t either. This is supposed to be Max’s redemption story but he seems to refuse redemption at every turn.
Max decides to take his gas and leave but this time he is not so lucky, the Humungus gang gets him and blows up his car, leaving him for dead. Now he has no other options but to join Papagallo and his team as they abandon the depot in a heavily-armored caravan and attempt to break free of the desert raiders once and for all. The final act of the movie is like a 30 minute car chase/siege of vehicular mayhem that was on a scale I imagine had never been seen before. Suffice to say every wacky character gets a moment during the mayhem and by the end, nearly everyone on both sides is dead. But we get a very satisfying twist ending.
I always found the final narration haunting. "As for the Road Warrior, that was the last we ever saw of him. He lives now ... only in my memories."
I think this movie created a new genre, or at least gave the old apocalypse a shot of adrenalin. I can’t count how many imitators followed in the wake of The Road Warrior
. Movies like Steel Dawn
and Warlords of the 21st Century
come to mind. Also the manga Fist of the North Star
was directly inspired (and its various movie adaptations) and its hero Ken even dresses like Max. Mad Max 2
was followed by two more sequels (so far) which continued to inspire others, so we get movies like 2008’s Doomsday
which was a lot of fun.
I do have to wonder in a world without technology how long they can continue to fight over scraps of gasoline to power their cars. Shouldn’t they be driving around on wind-powered sail cars or something? Or go back to horses? It seems like the longer they hang on to the obsolete oil-burning cars the longer they delay the inevitable. Which is probably the moral of the story.
For an added bit of backstory, as Paladin said, the rumor is that originally the Humungus was supposed to be Max’s old friend Jim Goose who was badly burned in the first movie. If true, that was dropped prior to filming. Although according to everything I found on Reddit no one can even confirm that. Another rumor is that Humungus was supposed to be Fifi, Max’s police captain from the first movie. The actor playing Fifi said he was offered the part but declined. He was also bald and muscular like the Humungus but not the extent of the final version we got. Either way, the Humungus is supposed to have some backstory, such as when he opens his gun case we see a family portrait and he tells Wez “we’ve all lost someone we loved.” For a big raspy-voiced, hockey-masked muscleman, he seems somewhat patient and tactically intelligent, perhaps not without reason. But still a killer.
Speaking of inspiration, I believe that Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th
stole his look. In the second Friday movie, Jason was shown with long hair and bag over his head. Then the Road Warrior comes out, and in the third Friday suddenly Jason has a bald deformed head with a hockey mask, just like the Humungus.
There's also a scene in the comedy Weird Science
where a biker gang is summoned by a genie (don't ask) and the main biker is played by Vernon Wells looking remarkably like Wez.
Also, as a wrestling fan I always noted that it was amusing that there were two tag teams that seemed to be inspired by this movie. The Road Warriors AKA the Legion of Doom both dressed like Wez with the mohawks and shoulder pads, and then Demolition both dressed like the Humungus with the masks and strap-shirts.