posted by Mike on 9/30/03
Limp-Wristed Justice Episode One: Enter the Tea Bagger
A year or more back I wrote an article about some of the greatest action heroes ever. At that time, I chose Ash from the Evil Dead Trilogy as my number one, and I still stand by that choice. But in looking back on it, I realized that there was one hero that I left out, an omission so blasphemous that I'm offering this article as self penance.
A while back, Mickey wrote an article on a couple of famous Australian monuments. One of them was the "Collossus of Lang Park," a commemorative statue of Wally Lewis, a famous Australian Rugby star. Reading over his article got my wheels a turning. I started thinking about other Australian heroes, particularly fictional heroes. I thought back to Crocodile Dundee, of course. I thought of Reckless Kelly (one of Yahoo Serious' absolute worst films, not that any of them have been appreciably good, mind you.) I even thought back to Henry Thomas, hot off his success in ET, in The Quest, where he seeks to solve the mystery of "Donkagen." Eventually, I thought back to the late 70's, and the enormity of my mistake in omitting one of the greatest action heroes EVAR (evar's the new E/N catchword this season! I promise I'll try to use it at least twice more before it's considered blase. But some E/N catchphrases never go out of style. AM I RITE?! ROTF LOL!!!11) And so without further ado, let's focus the WD Microscope Of Truth (tm) on Mad Max.
Before You die, you see... a nuttass Australian with a big fuckin' gun!
Mad Max was released in 1979, and made it to the States the following year. While it did little business over here, it was huge in Australia and Europe... that's not saying much though... Remember: Australia, Yahoo Serious. France, Jerry Lewis. Not 100% sure these folks have been exposed to enough good cinema to be able to discern it from, say, German scat films. But in the case of Max, they were right on the money.
Mad Max was the first major starring vehicle for Mel Gibson. It was written and directed by George Miller, who has made two more successful Mad Max films since the first, with rumblings of a fourth on the way, but in recent years has tackled softer subjects, namely Babe. Yes, the talking pig movies.
At any rate, Mad Max tells the story of Max Rockatansky, a police officer of the non-so-distant future, who has grown tired of his job. You see, there's a war going on (or has already happened... the film is a bit vague in that regard.) Anarchy is running rampant, and in no worse form than on the highways of Australia, where biker gangs and road-raging psychopaths have turned once peaceful countrysides into a bloody battleground. In that time, Max has watched friends and innocent victims die at the hands of these thugs. And after killing a particularly nasty street mangler by the name of Night Rider (no, no Hasslehoff, thank GOD,) garnering threats of revenge against both he and his family from the leader of all road trash (a maniacal Ozzy Osbournish character named the Toe Cutter,) Max decides it's time to turn in his badge.
In a supreme display of ego, Russell Crowe casts Mel Gibson in his autobiographical film "I Was a Young Aussie Nobody."
His boss, your typical gruff movie police commander (but bald with a handlebar 'stache, dressed in black leather with a pink neckerchief... draw from that what you will) doesn't want him to quit. But after his best friend and partner Goose is burned alive by the Toe Cutter's thugs, leaving him in a vagatative state that looks like a cross between a kid who went overboard with his Halloween Spawn Home Make-Up Kit and a plateful of Shake N' Bake chicken, Max makes up his mind and quits. Mr. Clean makes a counter offer. "Take a few weeks off and get your head together." Max begrudgingly agrees, but insists he won't change his mind.
So Max, his wife, and child head off to a beachside cottage for some well-deserved R&R. (SIDE NOTE: Doing a Google search for Mad Max brought up a link where you can rent this same beach cottage to get in touch with your inner Max, or whatever. All of you Australian WD readers can take advantage of this by visiting http://www.maxsbeachhouse.com.)
Little do they know that the Toe Cutter and his gang just so happen to be in that area, and are on the look out for them. One afternoon, Max's wife and son head down to the local store to get some ice cream cones. By the time Max gets to them, they're both lying dead in middle of the road, their blood-laced Rocky Road melting on the sun-scorched blacktop. Even as old as the film is, this scene chills me, perhaps because Iíve got a little one of my own now, dunno. But it bothers me on some level that I canít quite contemplate. The bodies lying in the road. The blood. The childís shoe lying alone on the pavement. And the utter look of shock and despair on Maxís face. Call me a wuss, considering this is a fucking action film and isnít supposed to be known for its drama, but I find this scene genuinely disturbing, and therein lies the brilliance of the film. We follow Maxís descent into madness because we see what he sees, and feel what he feels. You can see the loss written on his face, and feel the sick stirring in the pit of your stomach that he must feel at that same moment of realization. That snapshot of his eyes darting across the highway at what is left of his family, and knowing that he is now utterly alone.
Now in case you haven't figured it out by now, this is where the "Mad" part comes in. The last strand of Max's composure snaps. He drives all night, (without any skinny French-Canadians air driving in the background) all the way back home, and raids the police station (the gate of which is adorned with the title, "The Halls Of Justic"... yes, Justic... the e has fallen, because societYYY has fallen.. SYMBOLISM! Ooh YEAH! DIG IT!) for his road gear, and their new prototype Ford Falcon Interceptor. There's no doubts about it. This fucking car is badass, and alone is worth the rental fee for this flick, especially after sitting through two "Fast And Furious" shitfests about how wicked awesome suped-up import racers are.
This is the last time you cut me off on your little goddamned Asian crotch rocket, you MOTHER- VROOOOOOM!!!!...
From here on out, the film follows Max and his thirst for Revenge. In one especially brutal scene,(my personal favorite in the film) he forces one of Toe Cutter's cronies to take off his boots, and hand cuff himself by the ankle to the wreckage of his car. Max sets a makeshift gasoline bomb, and informs the grunt that he has but just a few scant minutes to escape. Max then hands him a hacksaw, and gives him some statistics on how fast he should be able to saw his own foot off if he's motivated enough to escape. That said, Max turns and walks away, leaving the hoodlum to die in a huge fireball of firey VENGEANCE.
These kinds of shenanigans eventually leads Max to the Toe Cutter himself, and their predestined ultimate showdown. You wanna talk about Fast and Furious, this is it. Any of you Diesel heads who haven't seen this film are doing yourself a disservice.
Now, a lot is said on the 'Net about the inspiration for this film. Here's my two lincolns on it. While it takes place in a future setting, plotwise it follows the tradition of the old spaghetti westerns made famous by Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name trilogy, and the early works of the late Charles Bronson. The anti-hero with an aversion to violence who is forced into action by his need for revenge. This same formula was used in Eastwood's spectacular film Unforgiven in the character of William Munny. There is something intrinsically intriguing about these soft spoken men who become silent killers. When we watch their path of carnage, a small part of our id envisions us on that same path, dispensing justice against those who've wronged us. We live vicariously through the dead eyes of these vigilantes, because inside, we wish we could do the same.
You forgot to yield before merging into incoming traffic! I hearby sentence you to a mouthful of buckshot!
One other factor that came to me after recently watching the film for the 222nd time. The subplot concerning Max's relationship with his best friend and partner was ringing a bell in the back of my mind... couldn't quite put my finger on it. Then about a week ago, it hit me. The same relationship has been used since Mad Max came out, to some degree of success. Observe:
Mad Max: Max is a police officer known for his sharp edge and near-suicidal tactics behind the wheel. He has a best friend and partner named Goose, a blonde-haired smart ass and class clown who is maimed tragically in the middle of the film, causing Max to lose his desire to be a cop,not to mention lays the self-guilt on thick due to Max having been elsewhere when he should've been at his partner's side.
Sound familiar to ya? Need a clue? Think middle 80's. Think Kenny Loggins. Think Tom Cruise. Still hazy? Well take a gander at this:
Top Gun: Maverick is a pilot for the U.S. Navy, known for his sharp edge and near-suicidal tactics in the cockpit. He has a best friend and co-pilot named Goose, a blonde-haired smart ass and all around clown who is killed tragically in the middle of the film, causing Maverick to lose his edge, and desire to be a pilot, not to mention lays the self guilt on thick due to Maverick having been unable to pull their plane out of a dead spin, which led to Goose's death.
Coincidence? Or is Jerry Bruckheimer a closet Mad Max fan?
The film's had numerous other imitators as well, perhaps the most recent being the indy sensation "Six String Samurai," though it could be argued that Vin Diesel's Riddick character from Pitch Black has a lot of Max in him...
Being our resident expert on all things Aussie, I emailed Mickey and asked for his opinion of this magnum opus of gas-fueled carnage. Here's what he had to say:
"'Mad Max II' is easily my favorite Australian movie. Apart from the line,"Two days ago, I saw a vehicle that would haul that tanker. You want to get out of here? You talk to me," it doesn't contain any great dialogue, but it is pure, image-driven, visceral cinema. If they had been able to imagine a post nuclear future in the 1920s, it could have been a great silent picture, starring Francis X Bushman.
It is also the best movie, ever, to see at a drive-in cinema."
Yes, there are two more films in the Mad Max series. Mad Max 2 (known as The Road Warrior here in the states,) and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, perhaps the most ambitious of the series, and my personal favorite of the three, mostly due to the "Lord of The Flies" influenced band of youngsters Max runs into halfway through the film who are obsessed with Cap'n Walker, "v-v-v-video," The "Poxyclypse," and "Tomorrow-morrow Land." Plus it has a midget who lives on the shoulders of a giant retard. And Tina Turner! What more could you ask for?
Max experiences a twinge of anxiety when he realizes that he spent too many years burning rubber when he should've been wearing one.
I'll get around to the two other films eventually. Truth be told, I've never seen the uncut version of the Road Warrior. For some reason, I always ended up seeing the hacked to death edited version they used to show once a year on NBC. Need to brush up on it before commiting to a review. Right now, all I remember about it is the lead villain, a greased up pro-wrestler dressed in a Jason Vorhees mask who calls himself Lord Humungous. Until then, keep watching for Max... They say he's out there somewhere, trying to find his way home... Just set some fires, pillage a few small towns... If you destroy it, he will come.