Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mad Max (Miller. 1979)

"They say people don't believe in heroes anymore. Well damn them! We're gonna give them back their heroes!"

In retrospect, it is hilarious to watch Mel Gibson play the leading role in the cult classic, Mad Max. This is a movie with so much adrenaline and power that it seems better suited for an actor of far lesser talent. Picture this billing on the marquee - Vin Diesel starring as Mad Max!

Set in a dystopic future Australia in "a few years from now", Mad Max is a movie that looks to exploit the speed demon inside all of us. It was made on a budget of $300,000 and greatly depends on the kinetic success of the frantic chase scenes. Most people would call this a road movie because the majority of the action takes place...well...on the road. But for me, Mad Max is its own type of cult movie. It features some significant emotional material as well as aggressive action.

Mel Gibson plays Max - an edgy, but relatively tame, road patrol officer in the streets of a desolate Australia. In the extensive opening chase scene, we see Max catch up to and eventually crash the car of a rouge motorcycle gangster known as Nightrider. Gangs rule the roads, so the death of Nightrider attracts the attention of his fellow riders. A new viscous gang comes to town in order to get revenge on the man who killed their comrade. After they go too far, it is Max who gets his revenge.

In the beginning, Max is nothing more than slightly edgy. Deep down he is a family man who is crazy about his wife and son. He wants to settle down and leave the force, but with a new gang on the loose that is not possible. That all changes when the evil gang mangles and eventually kills Max's best friend and fellow cop. He realizes that he could end up the exact same way and leaves the force to be with his family. Mel Gibson is a much more convincing family-man than he is badass killing machine. For me, it is the down time that works the best in the movie. Character development is sloppy and poorly presented, so Gibson had to make up for that with a compelling performance.

Eventually, the gang finds and murders Max's wife and infant son. This is where Max goes mad. I felt like it took forever to get to the part of the movie that people want to see the most. When Max got in that car and attacked his enemies, I was actively engaged. The problem is that it happened in the final eight minutes of the movie. The action is so frantic, rushed and underdeveloped that it made me wonder why the movie had such a strong reputation. I mean, it was still one of the most in your face movies I have seen - it was just far less than I expected.

I think my mistake was that I saw Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) before I saw the original. The sequel is so delightfully stylized and overbearing with aggression that it is oft thought to be better than the original. The violence is much more prevalent and the chase scenes are louder, longer and faster. I think I expected Mad Max to be more like the sequel. I had high expectations that were not even close to met.

That is because, contrary to popular opinion, Mad Max is not a movie about violence. It is the introduction to a soon-to-be violent character. Max is a soft-spoken husband and father. He does not become the iconic Australian killing machine until almost the very end. When it hits, it hits hard. But it takes so long to hit that I almost did not make it.

I am iffy about whether or not I really enjoyed Mad Max. Honestly, I would recommend skipping the original and direct you to the sequel. It is not a hard story. You will be able to catch yourself up.

Mad Max: C-

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