Spike Lee’s Essential Films (SLEF) — Episode 8: Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
Inspired by my friend Krishan’s 2016 goal to watch 100 films from 100 different countries, my dad and I have tasked ourselves with the similar project to watch all the films on Spike Lee’s Essential Films list. Every week we’ll try and have a quick conversation about what we just watched.
The list was picked out from a shortlist of many, on the basis that there are about 50 films on it that we have both not seen, and that cross a wide variety of genres, years, countries etc. I am not particularly a fan of Spike Lee as a director, but I do believe he has good taste!
This week’s film: Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
Brief Synopsis: In the post-apocalyptic Australian wasteland, a cynical drifter agrees to help a small, gasoline rich, community escape a band of bandits.
David: Appropriately timed, to honour the success of Fury Road at the Oscars last week, our watch this week was Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior.
Mick: Or as I like to call it, The Kangaroo Western.
David: A Fistful of (Australian) Dollars.
Mick: The Good, The Bad and The Crikey!
David: Ok, settle down…
Mick: It wasn’t my favourite movie that we’ve watched recently. I mean the good thing about it was that it’s reasonably short.
David: Not kind words then.
Mick: It felt low budget, as if it was all filmed in the same desert location. It’s a very simple plot that you don’t have to think much about to follow.
David: It’s an action film. Not a lot in terms of development of characters. Sparse dialogue, and some characters just grunted. But I think all that is to miss the point somewhat, to miss what is iconic about it. Which is its style, its action sequences, its car chase sequences.
Mick: Yeah that’s reasonable, but I just got a bit bored with it after a while. It wasn’t taking the story any further, you just knew you were going to get some more action sequences and more cars racing around and crashing.
David: The way you’re describing the film is the way I felt about watching the original Mad Max. I like the sequel a little more, it has more style, more panache, and just a bit more everything. You criticized the story as simplistic, but the plot twist at the very end is effective, and it is so because we’ve been lulled into a false sense of predictability, narrative-wise.
Mick: Well you still had to go through an hour and 31 minutes of story-less action for one twist at the end.
David: Well personally one of the things I like about the film is the way it feels like just a chapter in the life of the Mad Max character. I like the fact that it feels like one episode in a greater story. Though at the same time I can understand if that makes it seem slow or undeveloped or tedious to you.
Mick: What did you think of the music? Of the cinematography?
David: That score from Brian May was pretty intense. And impressive, despite being so brash and in-your-face. The music is full on, coming at you with full orchestral punches out of nowhere, and that perfectly suits the film. But I was really hoping for a We Are The Champions victory lap from Max at the end.
Mick: The cinematography was overall done to a high standard, but what annoyed me was the car chase scenes that had been clearly sped up. The jolty frame rate was immediately obvious, and they used it an inexcusable number of times. Fury Road won best editing at the Oscars last week; The Road Warrior could’ve got a Razzie for its editing.
Mick: I think the film could’ve benefited from developing one of the bad guy characters a little further. The whole structure of that was clearly not thought out. There were two main bad guys, neither of whom really established themselves in the role of the villain, as the great adversary to Max.
David: Likewise they hinted at a love interest for Max and then promptly killed her off without any emotion. It seemed a bit lazy.
Mick: Who was the best actor in the film? The best performance?
David: I think you want me to say the feral kid, or perhaps the dog?
Mick: The dog was my favourite, no doubt! I was just disappointed it got shot! Oops spoilers… But there was no emotion, no fanfare, no drama to the dog’s death.
David: That was Max I guess. Completely desensitized, emotionless from the scars of the past. I actually liked the brief role of the mechanic’s communicator. That was hysterical, especially as I’m not sure it was even meant to be.
Mick: Similarly, the guy with the flying machine. Damn annoying. Again not quite sure whether he was supposed to be a comic character or not.
David: I was really hoping for one close-up shot of the flying machine that wasn’t clearly green-screened, but alas…
Mick: Ok, let’s get to conclusions.
David: I think clearly from our conversation I liked this film more than you. And I think perhaps I appreciate it more than you. It’s an important film for the action genre, for car chase movies, and most importantly for Australian cinema. Without doubt it’s one of the top 5 most important Australian films of all time. That being said it’s an unpolished gem. I like the film for its flaws, its underdeveloped script, its simplistic plot and its aggressive soundtrack. But when you begin to stack it up against the Spaghetti Westerns that influenced it (i.e. Man With No Name trilogy), and the modern day action films that have followed it (i.e. Fury Road), quality-wise, it pales in comparison. 7/10.
Mick: Overall I was a bit disappointed. I wasn’t expecting too much, but I was disappointed. Obviously there are some great car chase scenes, but I would’ve liked to have seen a stronger plot to support these, and just more variety to the film. More character development would not have gone amiss either. Most of the characters were expendable and you couldn’t empathize with them; I didn’t care what happened to most of them besides the dog, and they went and killed it off didn’t they! 6.5/10.
Join us next week when we watch Stranger Than Paradise (1984).