Thursday, 3 July 2014

Mad Max 2 / The Road Warrior

Mad Max 2 is a narrowing of focus, a rawer model of film than its predecessor, stripped of extraneous features like hesitation or emotional availability. There's no safety net here. Everybody acts out of pure, avaricious instinct. Even the Bronze are gone. Given their highway patrol outfits, Lord Humongous' marauders might even be what's left of the police. A mono 4:3 recap gives us the skinny upfront, the Cold War boiled over and society ate itself. Max has survived, buried his family and wandered out into the wasteland to become something purely mythic.

The events of Mad Max were predicated on Max's ability to love and, when he lost those closest to him, to use that emotion to engine his hate. This Max is a burnt out veteran, an expert traversing the desert in search of the only thing that matters in this world, gasoline. Stagnation is death. Better to keep moving. Mad Max's dissolved editing process reorganised as a chase narrative - flee and forget. For their sequel George Miller, and screenwriters Terry Hayes and Brian Hannant take a leaf out of the Akira Kurosawa playbook, transforming their hero into a post-fall Ronin.

Although the morality here is a little more binary than in either Yojimbo or A Fistful of Dollars, the basic blueprint remains intact - a rootless wanderer antagonises two warring groups before settling down long enough to help a child. Mad Max 2 is an exceptional stranger film with the added benefit of knowing the events that shaped the man. Sergio Leone is stressed again in Max's relationship with his foil, the Gyro Captain. Their callous deals within deals recalling Blondie and Tuco's interactions in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

George Miller is one of those rare directors that understands action as something more than punctuation. The chase sequence that swamps Mad Max 2's finale is a mini movie with its own rhythms and reveals, a silent stunt spectacular built around the idea of how a tribe of Neanderthals armed with arrows and grappling hooks might halt a monstrous, speeding truck. A battered Max pilots the tanker, incidentally the greatest technological force we've yet seen, against the fragile insects that buzz around him. Miller's sequence is infectious and exciting primarily because it was obviously incredibly dangerous to create. Real cars buckle and break in the path of the tanker, stunt men tumble through the air with legs locked at unseemly angles. Miller hurls us back and forth, drinking in the convoy one minute, wincing at steel hands around Max's throat the next.

Action is typically resolved much how we expect in films. Cause and effect never getting much more complicated than a basic call and response. Mad Max 2 is completely different, its thinking is inventive, designed to confound. This unusual ordering best demonstrated by an early attempt to slow the eighteen wheeler. A biker hurls a tethered hook at the tanker's rear gun pod, ensnaring one of the settlers helping Max. There's a brief pause to linger on the pain of the trapped man before physics kicks in. The rusty old dune buggy at the other end of the rope weighs a fractional amount compared to the tanker. It upends and breaks, dragged behind like a trophy. Miller and his team aren't interested in brief, shocking confrontations anymore. They're remaking Buster Keaton's The General in hell. Over thirty years later, nothing else even comes close.

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