Having seen and enjoyed the Mad Max reboot, it’s only fitting that I go back and review each of the films from the original trilogy. Amazingly enough, this is my first time through these three Mel Gibson films. It’s certainly a blight on my movie viewing resume; one I rectified over the span of a little more than a week. It would’ve been easier to accomplish within a week if it weren’t for the tedious third installment.
I almost have to grade this one on a curve, as there are a couple things weighing against it:
- It’s dated. Everything about this movie feels like a late-70s / early 80s film. There aren’t necessarily any cultural references that give it the feel, it’s more just the ambiance and quality on display.
- It’s the first movie ever directed by George Miller, and he needed a lot of seasoning. His work really lacked any considerable skill, especially compared to the two films in the series which followed.
- It’s the first film of a trilogy. It worked too hard to establish characters, their motivations, the landscape and law enforcement. The second and third films won’t have to work so hard to do that.
The only reason I would recommend watching the first Mad Max film is to give a little bit of background for the two which follow. I’d almost recommend you watch the second and third films first, then if you’re at a loss for something to watch some night, check out the first film. It’s not very well made, it’s not very interesting, and it’s not essential background for the ones which follow… and they’re far superior.
My rating: 53 out of 100
MAD MAX 2: The Road Warrior
Even from the first 10 minutes, it’s easy to see that this is a far superior film in terms of direction and cinematography. The increase in quality continues throughout the film in all aspects. The stunt work, the visuals, the action and the music are all vastly superior to its predecessor. It was created only 2 years after the original, and yet doesn’t feel like a film specifically from the early 80s. George Miller seemed to have learned quite a lot from his first film, and having an increased budget appears to have helped as well.
(poster by Chris Weston)
It’s highly possible that when most people think back to the Mel Gibson incarnation of MAD MAX, this is the film that comes to mind. In many ways, it holds a lot more similarities with the FURY ROAD reboot than the original. In fact, the heart of each film’s plot – the quest to steal a precious resource using a gasoline tanker truck with the help of an unlikely ally – is the same.
To be honest, the original MAD MAX holds so little in common with the FURY ROAD reboot, by comparison or not, that the 1979 film feels like a prequel to the original films.
My rating: 80 out of 100
MAD MAX 3: Beyond Thunderdome
There’s no question in my mind why the franchise took a 30-year hiatus after the third installment. Things took an extremely wrong turn somewhere near the Gulag.
Though there were aspects of BEYOND THUNDERDOME which showed promise, the film at times felt tedious, dated, and the actors felt like they were trying too hard. I can’t remember the last time a movie with under 2 hours of run-time felt this long.
Oh, and the music… ugh, the music. Whatever steps forward Brian May took from the first film to the second, I wasn’t expecting this to be a problem. And honestly, it’s probably not all Maurice Jarre’s fault. He did work on LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, after all. The blame should probably fall on directors George Miller and George Ogilvie for the tone they used with some of the scenes. Seriously… playful, joyous music less than a minute after watching a child die in the desert despite a frantic attempt to save him?
This film could easily be improved with a different cut, some scenes removed, and different music in spots. The trek across the desert had some strong visuals, as did the break-in scene with the dark tunnels. The Thunderdome battle showed promise, and Tina Turner wasn’t horrible in her role as the antagonist. But this film was all over the map, and there were too many odd moments to make it an easy film to enjoy. The ending had tons of promise… and then it’s like someone got called to dinner and took 30 seconds to wrap it up. It’s weird to say that the film felt tedious, then to say that the ending deserved at least a couple more minutes.
My rating: 65 out of 100
Mad Max Film Franchise Summary
This franchise is all over the place, has tons of potential, tons of eye-rolling scenes and music choices, but also has quite a bit in the way of great visuals and good action scenes. I’m happy that I saw FURY ROAD first, because it was my favorite and I’m not sure what my expectations would’ve been if I had seen the original trilogy before heading into the theater. ROAD WARRIOR is an easy pick as my second favorite and is legitimately a good movie that doesn’t suffer with age. BEYOND THUNDERDOME was tough to get through, and with a quality FanEdit, it might actually compete with Mad Max 2 for the best installment from the 80s. Without a doubt, the original film is the worst of the bunch, and my recommendation would be to watch it last because it doesn’t add anything but background. In fact, I’d love to see a good FanEdit of ROAD WARRIOR which could include footage from the first film in flashback scenes.