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Better than _Mad Max_, maybe better than Thunderdome
on December 27, 2003
This _may_ be the best movie of the Mad Max trilogy.
I like a good postapocalyptic thriller as well as the next guy, but _Mad Max_ just wasn't it. In order to pull off a movie along those lines within the constraints of a tight budget, you pretty much have to be John Carpenter (whose _Escape from New York_ is, to my mind at least, a much more appealing movie than the one that launched this trilogy). It was a very cool idea, but too many of the seams showed and there wasn't enough cool stuff to sustain it in spite of its flaws.
_The Road Warrior_ is a different deal. It's a _much_ better movie than its predecessor, and it's sufficiently self-contained that you don't have to have seen the earlier one in order to enjoy it.
You probably already know the story here. After a nuclear war, what remains of human society is teetering on the edge between civilization and barbarism. Max (Mel Gibson in his pre-_Lethal Weapon_ breakout role) is a tormented loner in this world, hovering somewhere between hero and anti-hero as he wanders aimlessly around the Australian Outback in search of 'guzzline' to keep his car running. (You'll have to watch the first film to find out exactly why he's so tormented, but the first few minutes will give you the general idea.)
The plot itself revolves around that selfsame guzzline, of which there's (naturally enough) a widespread shortage. I won't tell you anything else in case you haven't seen it yet.
It's well done. Sure, there's quite a bit here that's designed to appeal to the sensibilities of fans of monster truck rallies and professional wrestling. But there's also a pretty well-realized view of a postapocalyptic civilization and of what it would take to keep that civilization from falling completely apart. I remember reading somewhere that the film relies heavily on Joseph Campbell's writings on myth; I think that's an accurate call.
Watch for Bruce Spence as the Gyro Captain. _Matrix_ fans will recognize him as the Trainman from M3. I'd also be remiss if I failed to mention that this movie, like the first one, was nicely scored by Brian May (of Queen).
I think the third film, _Mad Max Beyond Thuderdome_, has higher production values, more swashbuckling, and a better score. But _The Road Warrior_ is still, in my not entirely humble opinion, the best of the three.