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The Road Warrior (1982)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

The Road Warrior is the middle episode in the currently existing saga of Mad Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), which began with the initial Mad Max and continues into Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. The Road Warrior was the biggest hit of the three and also is known as an action / adventure classic with close to non-stop chase and conflict scenes, made with stunt men before the era of extensive computer simulation. In The Road Warrior the character of Max assumes a mythic hero aspect which continues somewhat into the Thunderdome episode. Max is a survivor and defender of the oppressed, although always also rationally self-interested.

The Road Warrior begins with background history, giving some of the plot elements of the original Mad Max, but also telling the story of the collapse of the civilization in which Max lives and the ascension of the “black fuel” (oil) to prominence as the foundation of what little civilization remains. This history seems to diverge from our own series of historical events and although the Mad Max films surely qualify for the post-apocalyptic genre, they also seem to take on an alternate history aspect at times.

As the background coverage ends the scene shifts to Max driving his “super car” from the first movie, accompanied by his dog. It looks as though the car might get 5 miles to the gallon with the scarce “black fuel” for which Max is always on the lookout. Max is involved in a chase with a group of bikers led by Wez (Vernon Wells) a savage and seemingly psychotic individual devoted to mayhem. Through superior driving Max wins out and gains some “black fuel” as well as information (the existence of a large Mack Truck rig) which he will use to advantage later in the movie.

The story moves along when Max encounters a snake at a nearby site with technology. He captures the snake, only to be captured himself by the snake’s owner: The Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence). After a short period in which the captain dominates, Max’s dog turns the tables and Max attains the upper hand. Hoping to save his life, the captain tells Max of an oil refinery operating near them in the Outback and offers to take him there. The captain is not given the best treatment by Max, but then it looked as though the captain had meant to kill Max. Fine manners have very little place in Max’s world.

When Max’s troop gets to the refinery they discover that it is besieged by a motley gang led by “Lord Humungus” (Kjell Nilsson) a large masked character whose face is never shown. The mayhem oriented maniac Wez is a thrall of Humungus, which gives the impression that Humungus is perhaps even more bent on destruction than Wez. The treatment his gang gives an exploratory force from the fortified refinery who they chase and capture gives solid grounding to these impressions. The Humungus gang wants the oil that the refinery people have. Humungus accuses them of being “selfish” to keep it.

The refinery people are led by Pappagallo (Mike Preston) who seems a mostly honorable character. Some of them, in opposition to Pappagallo, wish to deal with the Humungoids (my term) so that they can escape the Outback and head to better territory they believe still exists somewhere. When Max sees Wez that seems to tip the scales in favor of the refinery people enough so that he makes contact with them. He also meets and befriends a feral boy (Emil Minty) with a very dangerous boomerang who has made the encampment his home as well. Max proposes to bring the refinery people the Mack truck rig which he found in the prior encounter with Wez in exchange for some of their fuel. Starting alone, but later joined by the Gyro Captain, his dog and the feral boy, Max sets off on his quest.

That’s enough of the story here, although there is plenty more after he brings the rig back. The Road Warrior is one of the best action films ever made. The stunts are not done with computers but with stunt actors. The action / adventure story itself is exciting and also shows that honor, keeping one’s word and holding to agreements (contracts), is an essential part of the basis of civilization. The mythic hero of the Road Warrior stands out from the period in which this film was made and will probably always be considered one of Mel Gibson’s great films.

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