The Road Warrior begins with a narration sequence with an elderly man’s voice as it is shown to the audience the widespread pandemonium, which has steered the world towards nuclear Armageddon. Mad Max I shows the audience the beginning of the end. The Road Warrior picks up after the world has been destroyed and society hangs by a narrow thread.
Max roams the wasteland of Australia with his battle-torn black V-8 interceptor and his cattle dog foraging for supplies mainly food, and fuel for his gas-guzzling supercharger. Much like the first film, the first several minutes of the film offer an amazing chase sequence where Max is being pursued by a band of marauding punks led by the vicious Wez (Vernon Wells) who plan to kill Max and take his vehicle and what precious supplies he has left.
Max foils their attempt and wreaks two vehicles in an amazing crash sequence. Max commanders what fuel he can from one of the wreaked cars and fends off an attack by Wez who was shot in the arm with an arrow. Collecting what he can Max sets off again with his dog and his even more damaged vehicle.
Max later encounters an individual known as The Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence) who plans to get the drop on Max by taking what fuel he can from Max’s fuel tanks. Max tells the man that the car is booby-trapped and if he touches the tanks, he will ignite a fuse and blow up the car. Max eventually gets the drop on the man and threatens to kill him. The Gyro Captain tells Max that he can get him all the fuel he needs. The Gyro Captain informs him that there is an oil refinery twenty miles away that is still producing petroleum. Max spares his life and takes the Captain hostage in order to see whether or not his story is true.
Miller’s unique vision of the post apocalyptic future is more like an old Hollywood Calvary picture in which those operating on a frontier outpost are besieged by hostile forces that wish to gain entry and take what belongs to the settlers. The warrior army is led by “The Humungus” (Kjell Nilsson) a large muscular brute who wears a hockey mask over his badly disfigured face. (Some fans believe that the character is Max’s old MFP Captain from the first film).
The Humungus lays siege to the refinery outpost and blasts his ultimatum repeatedly over a loudspeaker. He asks that the tiny band of survivors in the refinery to surrender it over and The Humungus will spare their lives. Watching from high above the cliffs, Max and the Captain watch and wait for the opportunity to gain entrance to the refinery w/o making their presence known to the barbarian army.
The Road Warrior is non-stop action from start to finish. There are very few lulls unlike the first film which sets up Max’s character and how he becomes the man he is for the last two films. Max is the ultimate anti-hero, an old west gunslinger that rides into town to defeat the bad guys and then “drives” off into the sunset. It’s a simple yet effective old Hollywood formula.
Max eventually makes his presence known to the settlers and their leader Papagallo (Mike Preston) who first perceive Max to be not at all different than those who have laid siege to their outpost. The Humungus once more makes an ultimatum to leave the facility and surrender over their fuel stockpiles and the oil pumps. Some believe that if they walk away, the Humungus will offer them save passage. Others believe it’s a trick and that they should stand their ground and fight. Papagallo plans to move the tribe two thousand miles to the north in an attempt to carve out a new community and to put the horrors of the old world behind them but in order to due that, they need a vehicle large enough to pull a heavy tanker.
Max intervenes in the tribe’s conversation and delivers one of the most iconic lines of the series “Two days ago I saw a vehicle that would haul that tanker. You wanna get out of here? Talk to me.” Max makes a deal with Papagallo and the other elders in exchange for all the fuel he can carry out in his tanks if he can safely deliver them the truck in order to haul the fuel tanker. Being a man of principle, Max keeps his word and tells them he will return with the truck.
Max once again relies on the help of his new found partner The Gyro Captain to carry him to the truck in order to drive it back to the encampment. Max must also be careful on his way back to not be stopped by the Humungus’ army who will stop at nothing in order to get what they desire, fuel for their supped up barbarian mobiles.
The real shining moment of the film is the truck chase scene towards the end of the film. The sequence is filmed with some of the most impressive stunts that today would make studio insurance executives cringe in disbelief and make premiums shoot through the roof. In one such shot, a biker hits another vehicle and the nomad is thrown spinning through the air and lands in a ditch (according to the original behind the scenes feature), the stunt man fell into an elaborate cushion system which was comprised of several hundred brown packing boxes that’s right, brown moving boxes. Very cutting edge technology for 1981.
My favorite part of the film has always been the truck chase scene. More cars are destroyed in this one sequence, which is equal to John Landis’ sequence in The Blues Brothers (1980). Max attempts to save the reserves of fuel for the settlers and makes the barbarians pay for it for every stretch of road the sequence travels down. It is hands down one of the most dangerous sequences ever filmed.
The Road Warrior was an absolute international smash hit that earned more than Miller’s first installment by many millions of dollars. The Road Warrior now made Mel Gibson an international star whose career would be forever solidified as Max, the warrior of the wasteland.
Critics praised the film, dozens of directors from all over the world tried to emulate it, but George Miller once again painted the ultimate vision of the post nuclear world which reverted back to the dark ages, yet still managed to maintain a unique hint of a gun slinging western genre. Famed NY Times film critic Vincent Canby said this about The Road Warrior.
“Never has a film’s vision of the post-nuclear-holocaust world seemed quite as desolate and as brutal, or as action packed and sometimes funny as in George Miller’s apocalyptic The Road Warrior, an extravagant film fantasy that looks like a sadomasochistic comic book come to life.”
The Road Warrior went on to gross over twenty-four million dollars in the U.S. alone and helped to establish George Miller as the new generation of up and coming Hollywood talents. Rumored had it that Steven Spielberg saw The Road Warrior and was very impressed by Miller’s directing style. Spielberg personally asked Miller if he would be willing to shoot one of the vignettes for the upcoming big screen version of the beloved classic television series The Twilight Zone. Miller would in fact direct the new take on the classic episode Nightmare at twenty thousand feet.
The Road Warrior is available on DVD and Blu-Ray disc thru Warner Bros. Home Video and can be rented/streamed via Netflix.