Film reviews and more since 2009

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) review

Dir. George Miller

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★★

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, more or less, notably improves on its predecessor and this is evident from the first half-hour of the film. Rather than the inconsistently paced narrative we got in the first film, burdened by flash-in-the-pan action sequences and a cycle that ping-ponged between minimalist and blunt-force, director George Miller and the trio of writers (Terry Hayes, Brian Hannant, and Miller himself) have finally found the time and place when to do both and realize the series’ potential to feature both styles. What unfolds is a film more carefully balanced and more kinetic in its energy than its predecessor.

The film concerns the same dystopian Australia as the first film, only this time, law and order has ceased to exist and gasoline is a nearly nonexistent commodity. Former Australian police officer Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) still roams the street as a vigilante, taking out the numerous violent gangs that have claimed highways as territory all over the country, with his dog and his sawed-off shotgun clinging to him. Max’s latest responsibility is to defend a group of settlers, who are trying to protect a compound which houses dozens of vehicles and a substantial amount of fuel, despite marauders attempting to overrun it, at one point succeeding and killing all but one settler.

While Mad Max felt like it was laying the groundwork for the series to operate on, etching in some social commentary in addition to illustrating its vast, barren setting, Mad Max 2 begins to pick up and actually have some fun with its premise. It’s by no means reliant on momentarily substantive action, but it finds the charm in your average car chase, where the excitement is usually buried between two tons of clanking metal, fire, and murky camera shots.

Miller’s groundwork pays off for Mad Max 2, as we now know the setting we’re working with and have more time to enjoy our outing with this particular effort. The film is almost entirely focused on Max and his dog, whether they be rescuing the settlers or engaged in a hot pursuit chase. The first film found itself more concerned with creating a dichotomous focus between Max and the motorcycle gang. Here, our focus is made more intimate, personal, and exhilarating thanks to it being limited in such a large world.

Furthermore, Miller’s action sequences are delivered with more polish than they were in the first outing. They’re more entertaining, for one, as the stakes are raised (armored trucks, gasoline trucks, faster cars enter the mix) and the tension is more balanced. Miller and his writing team take time to build a sense of dread on the ground, when Max is ostensibly alone, and when he’s on the road, engaged in a high-speed chase, Miller captures it with complete clarity. We are always aware of space during these action sequences (also thanks to the trio of editors, David Stiven, Michael Balson, and Tim Wellburn), never becoming lost in a shuffle of incoherence or absurd camera angles. The action sequences, especially when set against Dean Semler’s beautiful cinematography, are absolutely elegant and pristine.

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior had quite a bit of polishing to do following the ho-hum effect Mad Max left. The simplicity and digestible nature of this film makes it all the more watchable, and the action sequences, combined with the sequences exploiting pure dread, work from the get-go. The film adheres mostly to the principles of older, American westerns while admirably playing its own game of dystopian hell, which works quite nicely thanks to the barrage of talent constantly on display.

NOTE: As of this writing, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior is available to stream on Max.

My review of Mad Max
My review of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

My review of Mad Max: Fury Road
My review of Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Starring: Mel Gibson. Directed by: George Miller.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

© 2024 Steve Pulaski | Contact | Terms of Use

Designed by Andrew Bohall