Sunday, December 7, 2008

FotM: Mad Max - Beyond Thunderbordom

I am a huge Mel Gibson fan. Both as a director and an actor. And if there is anything that he does well, it's action. So when I was deciding which trilogy to do for my feature of the month, the Mad Max trilogy seemed like a fantastic opportunity to not only see some films I'd never seen, but to enjoy some of the action classics that helped launched his career.

After viewing the films (back to back on Thanksgiving day), I was blown away. How the heck did these films help launch his success? Why on earth did people want a sequel to the original (let alone a third)? And why the heck didn't I stop after the first one? I've decided that these films must have been using stunts and special effects that were top of the line, that I have obviously come to take for granted, because it certainly wasn't the stories or the acting.

Mel Gibson was great. In fact, he was definitely the Gibson I've come to expect and enjoy, and was no doubt new and exciting to audiences at the time. But that doesn't change the fact that the movies are bloody terrible. They all start off with great potential, but end somewhere that is just downright disappointing, and somehow it took you forever to get there.

Let me start with this - Why I kept watching? One, it was my homework assignment, and I follow through on my commitments. Two, it is a famous trilogy . . . I thought surely it would get better with each one. I imagined three possibilities:

1. Perhaps, like the original STAR WARS, craze over a new concept, cool characters, set in a futuristic world of chaos and fighting, inspired the studio to increase the budget and get a different director.

2. Or maybe, like DESPERADO (Mexican Trilogy), the sequel would be more or less a creative sequel/retelling of the same story, with more explosions, action, and better acting.

3. If nothing else, surely a performance by Tina Turner, and a better soundtrack would be worth the wait!

Sadly - none of these things really happened. Each sequel started off with hopes of story improvement, more of a great character, and the possibility that the story would be cooler and larger than the one before. Instead, the beginnings were simply a tease, Mad Max was there just enough so that they could call it a sequel, and each story existed just to get more people in crazy outfits assembled from late night spandex and last year's football equipment, driving go karts and dune buggies with better gas mileage than any car today. Let's go through each, one by one.

Mad Max - Like any trilogy, this story is an origin story of why Max is Mad. Clearly our world has a dark future, as order is dying (with the help of a lousy system) and anarchy is very popular among punk bikers who like to serve as pets to their leaders. Max is a good cop, and apparently the best driver ever (however it seems like his victims that die by car crash or collision, suffer their fate more by accident than the strategy or skill of Max's driving). Devestated by the murder of his friend, he hopes to avoid the urge to become who he is fighting by running away from his duties as a cop. But he can't run away - it finds him and murders his family as well. So basically he is the PUNISHER with a kickass car. I love the concept, and the evolution of his uniform and upgrade of his car in this process is cool. Unfortunately the telling of the story sucks. For one, it takes 80% of the film to kill his family. Max was responsible for the killing of one of the main gang members (Knight Rider - I'm assuming it would be spelled the same, ha ha) at the beginning of the film. It seemed like revenge on his family would follow. But instead it's because his wife and child run into the same gang while running errands, and she doesn't do what they want. But they don't kill her on the run . . . no, that would make sense. They hunt her down, watch her sleep on the beach, chase her through the woods, kill the dog they just bought, and then they run her over. See - too long. It's no different than their revenge on Max's partner earlier in the film. They damage his bike so that he flies off it, knowing that he'll get in a truck to drive back to the station (oh - he isn't hurt much after flying through the air either), so that they can attack the truck, which he gets stuck in, and they light on fire. It's just long and ridiculous. WHY? Because it's more time with bikes, cars, and explosions. The coolest part of the film, was the last 20 minutes where he is MAD and after revenge. But it's not him chasing the gang leader into a head on collision with a truck that got me . . . it was the eye for an eye moment with the gang member that lit his friend on fire. Unfortunately, as cool as this revenge tactic was, I'm not sure how Mad Max knew it was this member that sealed his friend's fate. But who cares, Mad Max is badass, and I want a sequel (well - I didn't, but apparently the world did).

Road Warrior - Everything about the opening made me think I was in for a treat. It had the cool intro, recapping the original film in a way that made it look watchable, and reminding us that Max is Mad and isn't going to put up with anyone's crap. Also - it upgraded the anarchy of the future to an endless struggle over gas - something that our actual future could turn into. And then the entrance of our beloved character is kickass. His car has new gadgets, his uniform and look has aged and evolved, and once again, he just wants to be left alone . . . but if you mess with him, you are going to pay (mainly with the gas from your vehicle that he just crashed). After that, you realize that WATERWORLD was actually a remake, only they were on water instead of in the desert, and they used boats instead of cars. They even had the crazy dog like child, who just wants to hang out with the loner, who just wants to be left alone. But Mad Max is a softy for kids and "family" and gets sucked in to helping. I personally felt the action was better in WATERWORLD, and that film sucked too. But I will say that Road Warrior, like most second installments in a trilogy, was the best of the three. I was much more entertained. But I was hoping they'd think of a cooler way to kill the gang leader in the third, rather than simply running into him with a truck.

Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome - I thought having the pilot from the second movie randomly put Max in his new predicament was kind of stupid, especially since he served no real purpose in the rest of the movie, but I guess it was supposed to be funny. Never the less, the beginning of the movie was kickass. I was most excited about Tina Turner's opening song, because I thought surely the rest of the soundtrack would be better than the previous films. Unfortunately this was the only time we heard her sing until the credits roled at the end of the movie. Once he is banished from Thunderdome, the movie turns into TEMPLE OF DOOM. He has to save a bunch of kids and the underworld of Barter Town. Only these kids aren't the slaves, and their only real connection to Thunderdome is a monkey that can find his way across the desert to anyone, anywhere. The movie is basically two concepts thrown into one. Mad Max is left alone at the end, in hopes that their could be a fourth film (only no one cares), and because Tina Turner didn't really want to hunt him down and kill him, she just wanted to ride in her dune buggie. At least they upgraded the truck to a train. This movie was just stupid. It could have had a twist at the end, it should have had a twist at the end . . . I really wanted a twist at the end. Maybe then, it would have made sense.

My new idea of an apocalyptic future is to strap someone in a chair CLOCKWORK ORANGE style, and force them to watch this trilogy back to back. Those individuals would then fire up their cars and hit the streets, stopping only for refills and accessories for their inventive outfits. Only, they better look out, because MAD FILMNINJA will be ready to run them over with a truck. My new fear is that they will bring Mad Max back from the dead (as bringing back Action Heroes from the 80's is very popular right now) in Road Warrior: Return to Thunderdome. When that happens, I will not.

8 comments:

Adam said...

Wow. I'm very glad that I picked my own assignment rather than asking Megan for ideas . . .

FilmNinja said...

i should have done EVIL DEAD

Senor Granto said...

I hope there is another Mad Max so they get it right this time. The first is a cult classic, the second is a great action film (though short on plot like you said), the third is pure camp but I love it anyway since it was the first one I saw. There really has yet to have been a film in the series that really knocks it out of the park which is a shame since it is a very cool concept.

We don't need another hero......

Senor Granto said...

And please do Evil Dead, I can't believe I forgot to add that to my list of best 80's horror comedies.

FilmNinja said...

Another Mad Max could be brilliant . . . since the art of redoing 80s action movies is all about going back to their roots. But right now, I think Mel better play it safe and do another Lethal Weapon. He needs a hit and he needs it bad.

Senor Granto said...

It seems like he hasn't acted in forever, I'm guessing he'll stick with producing and directing for awhile now.

They were real close to a script called Fury Road but this was right before Iraq and so they had to shut down production.

Adam said...

I'm not a big fan of Gibson as an actor, personally. He seems to do the same performance every time with the exact tame tics. However, the directing gig has really been doing well for him. His last film, Apocalypto, made $120.6 million worldwide off of a $40 million production budget. That's a really good return. I still haven't watched any of his films, though I have two. Braveheart is just really long, and I can think of better things to do than watch someone get tortured to death in The Passion of the Christ.

Senor Granto said...

I felt the same way about We Were Soliders but my cousin (who's a career solider) says that's one of the most accurately depicted movies of the military in terms of procedure and such.