Going back a bit, I mentioned that there are works where the audience remembers not the original but a later version, whether it is an adaptation or a sequel. Among the works analyzed here at Lost in Translation, Frankenstein, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Superman: The Movie are perfect examples of the phenomenon. Adding to this short list, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior is the best known despite being a sequel to 1979’s Mad Max. The first movie in the series, Mad Max, was a little-known film from Australia starring a then-unknown Mel Gibson. The Road Warrior, released in 1981, had a bigger impact on film audiences. While both movies featured the same actor as the same character in the same setting, The Road Warrior took the action into the post-apocalyptic wastes.
Mad Max, the original movie, showed Max, a Main Force Patrolman, similar to a highway patrol officer, takes on a gang. The apocalypse hasn’t yet happened, but the signs of it coming were there. The second movie was as pure an action movie as could be made, with just enough dialogue to establish the situation, told as a story by the young feral boy that rode with Max. A settlement that grew around a gasoline refinery is under threat from Lord Humungus and needs someone to help them transport their gas and the survivors away before the assault begins. Max finds the settlement and is pressured into helping. The plan is to send out a semi rig with a tank trailer to run past Humungus’ gauntlet. Once the rig leaves the settlement, the chase is on, not letting up until the end of the film.
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, released in 1985, uses the same narrative frame as The Road Warrior, a young survivor of the events telling the tale as an adult. Once again, Max is pulled into a situation beyond his control and his humanity has to reassert itself to help the child survivors of an airplane crash. Beyond Thunderdome featured Tina Turner as Aunty Entity, co-ruler of Bartertown with designs on becoming the sole ruler, and had hits for her with the movie’s theme song, “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)” and “One of the Living“.
The Road Warrior breaks past the cult classic barrier to be known, by reputation and mood if nothing else, by general audiences. The Reboot episode “Bad Bob” featured a Mad Max-style game, having the cartoon’s cast reboot into characters right out of the movie. The Road Warrior has become shorthand whenever anyone needs to refer to a blasted post-apocalyptic wasteland filled with war bands fighting over scraps while the average person is trapped between a rock and a hard place. Pop culture osmosis may have built up the movie into something bigger than it was originally, leading to a thirty-year gap before the next entry in the Mad Max franchise.
In 2015, Mad Max Fury Road was released. Once again, Max, now played by Tom Hardy, gets swept into events. He’s first taken captive by Immortan Joe’s War Boys to be used as a blood bag for a sick warrior named Nux. When Immortan Joe’s top Imperator, Furiosa, goes rogue on a trip to Gastown, he realizes the she has taken his five “brides” and sends his War Boys to stop her. Max is strapped on the front of Nux’s car, still connected to him to provide blood. The chase begins, letting up enough to give the audience a chance to catch its collective breath. Max slowly regains his humanity again and helps Furiosa and the “brides” escape from Immortan Joe to find Green Place. Immortan Joe calls in two other warbands, led by the Bullet Farmer and by the People Eater. There was more dialogue than in The Road Warrior, but the focus is on the action.
Fury Road keeps to several themes found in The Road Warrior, including survival, the fight against would-be tyrants, the need for family, and the dangers of ecological collapse. The new film also adds the empowerment of women, with Furiosa an equal to Max throughout the film and the catalyst for the action. Visually, Fury Road is lush, with the desert wastes beautiful and oppressive, as much a character as the cast. The stunts start with what shown in The Road Warrior and amp up from there. The Doof Warrior, played by iOTA, and the Doof Wagon bring in music for the action, being Immortan Joe’s flamethrowing guitarist and taiko drummers on a vehicle that’s essentially a high-speed mobile stage.
Helping to keep the feel is the core crew. George Miller has been involved with the franchise from /Mad Max/, meaning Fury Road is more of a sequel. Yet, because of the thirty-year gap and the change of actor as the eponymous character, the movie also works as a reboot. Elements from The Road Warrior, which did set the tone for the franchise, appear. At the same time, Fury Road is its own movie. Yet, it keeps the themes, tone, and general feel. Max is lost, physically and metaphorically, and needs to rediscover what it means to be human. Fury Road is a perfect entry to the series, demonstrating everything that made The Road Warrior popular while detailing the setting. The movie is a note-perfect reboot.