The time is the near future...the place...is presumably Australia...and the atmosphere is one of chaos. Max Rockatansky (Gibson) is part of the MTP (Main Force Patrol) which is tasked with keeping peace and order in society. Max's (or the film's affectionate nickname for him, "Mad Max") main problem is a rogue biking gang which is led by the insane "Toecutter" (portrayed by Hugh Keays-Byrne).
Before I saw the film, I admit, I thought it would be more brutal than it was. Even the biker gang, although certainly dangerous, only ends up killing two people throughout the entire film. The biker gang seems to be more of an exception than the norm. The people aren't tearing each other part but there is an emptiness to everything. Most scenes feature open highways with little towns to be seen in sight. When the biker gang comes in to towns, nobody is surprised, but people are still frightened by the antics of the bikers. This isn't the The Road or I Am Legend. Civilization, although consisting of considerably fewer people, is still relatively peaceful. I mean, what kind of dystopian society has a police force? A more realistic one.
The film's best commentary on human nature is displayed through the actions of Jim 'The' Goose (portrayed by Steve Bisley). (No, he has no connection to the Goose from Top Gun, except that he also dies in a very explody type of way). Anyway, Goose is quite an impetuous guy. When the biker gang terrorize a man and woman, they leave her naked in a car. Johnny the Boy (portrayed by Jim Burns) is the only biker left behind. When the MTP pick up the woman to take her to safety, Goose demands that Johnny be prosecuted. There was, however, little evidence to link him to the crime so Goose becomes furious, scrapping with anyone who would stop him from hurting Johnny. Goose's strong reaction to Johnny being released could be one of frustration with the justice system but one suspects that it has more to do with the equality of Goose and Johnny. If circumstances had been different and Goose was part of a biker gang, would he choose to act violently toward innocent people? Maybe so. His vendetta against Johnny was his way of asserting authority the same way the biker gang would have. The film rightly points out that being an officer of the law does not make a person better than the people they are arresting. It just puts them on the side of the Law.
Unfortunately, what I just described is most of the film's political commentary. What about the overall entertainment value of the film? Let's start with the music:
The music sucked. It's the common error of filmmakers to match the scene to really obvious music. If something sad is happening the music becomes very solemn. If something shocking is happening then the music pointedly indicates that the moment is shocking. It's so redundant. Music should be used to add to a scene, not punctuate what is already obvious. Many instances in the film occur where suspense is building and the music quickly becomes ridiculously noisy and intense. It was very irritating.
There were, however, instances in the film where silence was used to good effect. The car chase at the beginning of the film is largely without background music. When the biker gang is committing various heinous crimes throughout the film, the music is also largely absent. This indicates the common place in which anarchy is allowed to occur in the society. I don't think this contradicts my previous thought, though. I think that Mad Max's dystopian version of Australia is crime ridden, full of people who have given in to their primal instincts, but has more of a Western feel to it. Everything is quieter and solemn and spread out. Anarchy, although rare, is allowed to thrive in a largely apathetic nation.
I also have to bring up the action sequences. On this account I was also disappointed.
None of the action scenes were particularly thrilling. Most of them were very quick with no suspense and no incredible feats. The car chase scene in the beginning is nice. It is humorous (the cops are largely incompetent) but also displays the lawlessness of the land. But that's about it- until the end of the movie.
Max goes after Toecutter's gang and quickly disposes of most of them. Quickly following is a scene where Max faces off against a man mounted on a motorcycle. This scene, like the others, is just TOO short. The mindless action cravings that I expected to be satiated were not satiated in this film.
Speaking of Toecutter...there's not much to say. He's not without motives but he's not that interesting of a villain. Sure he spouts off bogus philosophy throughout the film which one might mistake for complexity. I just thought he was crazy. His motives are very clear: wreak havoc. You don't really care why he does it, because he's freaking insane. That being said, the worst thing about Toecutter was his ridiculous hairstyles, which frequently changed throughout the film. That's definitely a cause to deduct Villain Points. (I mean, it was like some sort of multi-colored mane! Why do so many villains have ridiculous hairstyles? Even Anton Chiturgh in No Country For Old Men dons one of the ugliest cuts in cinema history. In Chiturgh's case, however, the hair suits the character).
Other little tidbits:
* The relationship between Max and his wife, Jessie (Joanne Samuel), is sweet and very believable. Their relationship was the foundation of the film. The goodness that is always found in people, even in trying times.
* The movie displays a very odd sense of humor. A man baby and the shirtless MTP Chief, proudly adorning a gigantic scarf, being a few instances.
* The film was filled with awkward cuts and an uneven pace. Many scenes lost their impact (the injuries of several characters) because the film glossed over them relatively quickly. The film focused far too much time on the antics of the biker gang and not enough on Max's character.
* Near the end of the film, Max offers Johnny the Kid a decision that is very much reminiscent of what Jigsaw would offer to his victims. (Of course, this movie preceded any of the Saw films)
Mad Max raises interesting questions about human nature, but it does not delve deep enough and, on a more visceral level, is generally lacking in exciting action sequences.
My Score: 7.3 (out of 10)