At long last, the Mad Max trilogy finds a welcome home on Blu-ray via a decent transfer that retains the grain of the original film prints. This hugely popular series was able transcend its Antipodean setting to because a world-wide phenomenon, making a huge star of Mel Gibson and setting the blueprint for subsequent films from the action genre to follow. Of the three, 1979’s Mad Max feels like the clearest distillation of so-called Ozploitation. From its raw, unpolished stunt work, to the larger-than-life, rough around the edges performances – a large part of its charm – the film still packs a powerfully visceral punch.
Made on a shoestring budget, the frenetic car chases and outrageous collisions are infinitely more thrilling as any modern CGI comparisons. Gibson’s Eastwood-like poise was a huge factor in the success of the film. Allegedly turning up for his audition sporting a freshly mashed-up mug from a bar brawl the previous evening, Gibson is every bit the star-in-the-making here. His introduction offers that slow iconic reveal, where he is glimpsed at fleetingly, sunglasses on, waiting to fly into action behind the wheel of the infamous V8 Interceptor (a character in itself, and rightly revered by fans of the first two films).
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) joins the likes of The Godfather: Part II as a sequel superior to its predecessor. Like those films, it successfully retains what made the first film spark, yet expands the world of its characters, offering something much more satisfying. Leaving the dystopian society of the first film for an altogether more barbaric, oil-stricken post-apocalyptic landscape, this is a lean, stripped-down action film. Barely a line of dialogue is uttered until around thirty minutes in, and at the ridiculously young age of 26, Gibson is more than adequate at portraying the strong and silent type. More than thirty years after its initial release, it still sits up there with the very best in the history of action cinema.
1985’s Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome was bigger in scope, and a much more lavish affair than its predecessors. Critics at the time of its release complained of it being a watered-down version of the second film (it’s the only one in the trilogy not to have been awarded an 18 certificate). Whilst it’s true that the brutality of the previous films is conspicuously absence this time around, it succeeds yet again in opening up the milieu of the character. The cavernous world of the orphaned desert children which dominates much of the second half of the film has a wonderful magical quality to it. The kids wrongly assume Max to be their saviour as prophesied by a picture slide reel – their only visual reference to a long-extinguished world.
The tribe bring out a paternal side to Gibson’s road warrior, who would rather revel in the ignorant bliss of his new-found ‘family’ then venture back out into the potentially dangerous communities beyond. If this side to the character didn’t sit as well for fans, their appetites were more than adequately sated by the final chase sequence. Co-star Tina Turner also acquits herself surprisingly well in a rare big-screen appearance, playing the maniacal leader of Barter Town with an infectious relish. If Beyond Thunderdome falls a little short of the first two, it’s still a worthy addition to a film series which has lost none of its power to thrill and entertain.