Out of all the Mad Max films, the first film immediately comes across as the odd one out. Whereas the other films play out as very stylized post-apocalyptic action films, this first film takes its cues from what was called the “new wave of Hollywood directors”, which were more subtle in their approach than what you might see today. In fact, the film’s director envisioned the film as something like a silent film, with the car-based action as an extension of the kinetic qualities of the kind of film he had in mind. Compared to its successors, the first Mad Max film is decidedly more experimental, resembling the modern equivalent of a Western film, only much darker and grittier. Indeed, the film tells a story of a good man who tries to cling on to sanity, but in the end is driven to the edge, and driven back into a job that he wanted to retire from.
The story is slowly paced, but I think that makes sense given the film’s direction. Unlike a lot of action films, this one gives us characters with actual depth, and I’m not just talking about Max himself. That being said, however, this is the only film in the series that gives any insight into what Max had to lose (specifically, his wife and child, who only appear in this film). Mel Gibson fits into the title role quite well, making for a convincing cop in a post-apocalyptic setting, and his character becomes all the more engaging as the film progresses, particularly towards the end. The villains are pretty much thugs, but they’re not totally brainless, otherwise they wouldn’t make for very good villains. The film emphasizes the madness of the villains in its script, but most of the credit should go to the actors portraying them. Their performances really bring out the grotty, deranged, violent characteristic that should come naturally in the context of the post-apocalyptic highway setting. In other words, they were nasty in a very believable way.
It’s worth mentioning that the film was produced on a budget of only around 400,000 Australian dollars, which was quite low even for its time. For something like that, the film is quite an eye-catching visual spectacle. The vehicular action scenes are choreographed quite well, and at the very least they’re more enjoyable to look at than a by-the-numbers car chase scene. Of course, violence is everywhere in this film, and Max delivers highly proficient justice to his enemies, with a particular highlight of the film being that one scene where Max handcuffs a man to his car and sets him alight. All in all, George Miller did very well in crafting a mad, violent world to life. It may not be as well-done as its successor (and it certainly doesn’t hold a candle to Mad Max: Fury Road), but even today, it’s a cut above a number of action films, and it continues to stand out brilliantly amongst the other films of its kind.
- Score: 85%
- Grade: A