Essentially a glorified B-Movie, Mad Max saw Mel Gibson break out as live wire hero cop Max Rockatansky in a not too distant semi-dystopian Australian future. Other than Gibson, and sometimes including him, the acting and scenes are straight out of a direct-to-DVD movie – see Max sitting bolt upright in bed, a red light illuminating his haunted eyes, or his looking under a sheet at the hospital, so I wonder whether this is memorable more for the creation of the character, a Dirty Harry inspired ‘bronze’ who’ll nab his victims by whatever means, and for the supposedly superior sequel (watch this space).
If the recent UK petrol strikes had gone on a little longer, chances are we’d have seen something not too dissimilar to the events here, in George Miller’s 1981 sequel to 1979’s Mad Max. Mel Gibson reprises his role of Australian cop Max Rockatansky, but the world he lives in is now a barren, chaotic land left ravaged by a worldwide war, leaving the survivors desperate for any fuel they can find.
Max and his dog roam the landscape looking for gasoline, eventually hearing about an enormous stash not too far away, and so with the guidance of a deranged nutcase with a flying machine (“It’s my snake, I trained it and I’m gonna eat it.”), set out to find it, but alas the compound within which the gasoline is kept is not only heavily guarded, but is also being laid siege to by a ruthless gang of miscreants.
Whilst this is certainly an improvement on the original movie, there are still a lot of things here that don’t make sense. For starters, the motivation for every character is to end up with more fuel, yet all seem to expend an awful lot more than they need to in order to get any. Whole fleets of cars and motorbikes are sent out on scouting missions, showboating and jumping as they go, and even the compound uses a bus as a gate. If fuel is so very precious, why are they all so eager to waste it?
The costume design has progressed from the previous film, and now the rebel gang has an even greater passion for leather, bondage and ass-less chaps than Max himself. The depiction of a lawless, structureless society is well done – one of the gang’s cars is a cop car, suggesting that it’s not just the general population that has lost it’s mind – and Max readily eats cold dog food, straight from the tin. There’s better characters too, including a feral kid with a deadly boomerang (played by the brilliantly named Emil Minty), and there’s some decent action and chase sequences. The epic finale, with the gang attempting to seize a petrol tanker trying to travel 2,000 miles to paradise, does get a little samey after a while, but is impressive nonetheless. The arm-mounted crossbow though is probably the least threatening weapon I’ve ever seen.
Fortunately, Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome isn’t on the list, but this one is deserving of it’s place. It’s by no means the greatest dystopian future survival movie, but it’s still an enjoyable watch, and certainly has it’s moments.
Choose film 7/10
My main issue is that the character of Max is initially built up as being a kind of supercop brought in when no-one else will do, almost robotic in terms of getting the job done, and for the first scene, in which Max steps in to take out a cop killer and his girl when the rest of the force is lying in a heap of wrecked cars, this seems to fit, but for the next hour we see a completely different character, a family man in need of a break from his high stress job. It’s almost as though Gibson is playing twins. Annoyingly, it’s these more sentimental moments, making up the majority of the film, that prevent MM from being the guy’s night in classic it could well have become, for the scenes of brutality, chases and revenge have real potential.
Another problem is that the film has no real message. The gang of the man Max killed at the start end up tracking Max and his family, yet not because he killed their cohort, simply because they run into each other. It could so very easily have been a vengeance plot, but for reasons unbeknownst to all, this was omitted in favour of fate and coincidence.
Choose life 6/10
A young Scottish boy in the 13th Century is mentally scarred by the sight of dozens of his kinsmen slain and hanged. He is too young to fight the English, for it is those villainous scoundrels that are to blame, and when his father and brother do not return from battle he is sent to live with his scarred uncle Argyle (Brian Cox). Taught to use his brain before his sword, he grows up to become Mel Gibson, returns to his home village and falls in love, only for those Anglo-Saxon bastards to kill her too. Understandably, this sends Gibson’s William Wallace into a bit of a tizzy, so he sets about raising an army to thwart the tea-drinking tossers and their leader, evil Edward I. I’m no historian, but to say the film is blinkered by a love for the Celts is no exaggeration, with us Englanders shown creating laws where it is fine for us to sleep with a Scotsman’s wife on her wedding night, and banning the kilt-wearing types from brandishing so much as a stick. I’m not saying this didn’t happen, and I’m not going to burn any calories finding out, but I’m going to assume that something from the mind from Gibson can be taken with a rather hefty pinch of salt.
That being said, Gibbo gives good as the rabble rouser, hinting at the madness (and mullet) of Lethal Weapon, with an imposing presence and questionable accent. Much too can be said of Gibson the director and producer – roles for which he took home the Best Director and Best Picture Oscars in 1996. With an eye for locations and an ear for mixing the comic with the tragic, this is a well balanced film. Some of the fights and chases feel a little clunky, and the many brutal deaths – throats slit, fence post impalings, gouged eyes and mutilated horses – seem a tad gratuitous at times.
Choose film 7/10
The Great Escape, with chickens! For Aardman’s first feature length picture, Nick Park and his team borrowed heavily from a British classic, with the Hilts-esque Ginger (Julia Sawalha) and her Scottish accomplice Mac (thankfully not shot up against the fences) leading a brood of chickens to freedom after their tyrannical farmers make a switch from eggs to chicken pies. The parallels run deep, from the multiple escape attempts using homemade and stolen tools to a heavy American influence courtesy of Mel Gibson’s circus cockerel Rocky Rhodes, although I very much doubt that this was based on a true story. Other elements, from a Flight of the Phoenix inspired mechanical plane to a Raiders style hat gag (by law, every film featuring a vertically closing door must feature the hero sliding under it to safety, before reaching back to retrieve their fallen hat) all add to the fun, but I was annoyed at the farmers complete lack of concern that, not only were their hens wearing hats and scarves, but one of them was wearing glasses. Timothy Spall and Phil Daniel’s east end spiv rats were excellent additions too.
Choose film 7/10