Mad Max 2

(Dir. George Miller, Australia, 1981)

[part of a BFI essays collection]

Everyone knows that Mad Max (1979) made Mel Gibson internationally famous. George Miller's hymn to machine fetishism and mindless violence sets out its stall from the off, presenting, at full throttle, a malevolent near future which turns Max the policeman into Max the vigilante. However, it is with Max Max 2 that Miller's full vision of his troubled future comes to fruition. Here he presents the milieu that would influence post-apocalypse science fiction film for many years to come.

Once again, Miller's film sets out its stall early, with slicker titles now appearing below the star. The key here is budget. Mad Max had cost just 400,000 Australian dollars, but saw over 5½ million at the box office. Consequently, Mad Max 2 garnered both a $12million budget and a Warner Bros. distribution. Miller spent the money wisely, seemingly using less to create more. Gone are Melbourne's hospitals and halls of justice; gone too are the B-movie styled score and the shock, exploitation-movie editing. Instead, Miller has moved his production to the outback wasteland of New South Wales, and spent money on cranes for his cameras and filters for his lenses. The sets and vehicles, however, are pared down to the bare necessities. Whilst Mad Mad 2 does sacrifice the disorientating, disjointed narrative that gives edge to the original, it surpasses its brilliant model in every other way. Most notable is the way the rape-and-murder violence is upgraded to a suggested ultra-violence; the flawless editing implies all, but actually reveals nothing (a technique later used by Gibson as director of 1995 Oscar-winner, Braveheart, and by George Miller again in his 2015, third Mad Max sequel, Fury Road). As a result, Mad Max 2 is an impressive, frenetic, comic-book styled, ultra-violent, darker, more radical vision of a future only hinted at towards the end of the first film.

Perhaps because of the obvious shift in milieu, longer versions of Mad Max 2 open with an expositional montage explaining how and why Max and his desert wasteland environment came to be. This proves unnecessary as soon as Max, bearing the hallmarks of the lone Western rider, walks into frame. His mission - as with everyone who wants to live - is to find fuel. Max runs into Bruce Spence's brilliantly restrained gyrocopter pilot, who leads him to a refinery camp. The camp is being besieged by a murderous gang, bent on stealing its precious fuel. With an eye to filling his own petrol tanks, Max agrees to help the refiners get their fuel to the relative safety of the coast - two thousand miles away. Helped by the refiners, his new found gyro-friend, and the almost obligatory doe-eyed feral child - whom Miller just manages to keep from becoming nauseating - Max drives the tanker out of the camp. Max Aspin's stunt team then pulls out all the stops to produce material for one of the best cinema chase sequences ever filmed. Edited and scored to perfection, Miller's climactic scene offers a masterclass in action filming. The film's denouement sees Max, once again, ride alone into the proverbial sunset, to return in the perhaps inevitably less impressive Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985).

Australia; Kennedy Miller Productions; 96 minutes; UK cert. 18
Producer: Byron Kennedy; Writers: Terry Hayes, George Miller, Brian Hannant; Cinematograhy: Dean Semler; Editors: Michael Balson, David Stiven, Tim Welburn; Art Direction: Graham Walker; Music: Brian May.
Cast. Max: Mel Gibson; Gyro Captain: Bruce Spence; Pappagallo: Mike Preston; Toadie: Max Phipps; Wez: Vernon Wells; The Humungus: Kjell Nilsson; The Feral Kid: Emil Minty.

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