An origin story, essentially, Mad Max serves as the setup for the far superior Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. Here our hero (Mel Gibson) is a genial, even goofy, member of the ragtag highway police force that tries to bring some semblance of order to the post-apocalyptic back roads of Australia. It isn’t until a raping, pillaging motorcycle gang comes after his wife and child that he transforms into the brooding, unpredictable antihero deserving of the movie’s title.
A bit of a low-budget crapshoot, Mad Max is of intermittent interest if only because it offers hints of what is to come: a penchant for outlandish villains (Hugh Keays-Byrne does most of the vamping as Toecutter); a camera that hugs the stripes as we speed down long stretches of road; a glee at the sight of smashing, crashing and overturning vehicles.
It’s all a mishmash though. Director George Miller doesn’t quite yet have a handle on the circus-like insanity that would define The Road Warrior; Mad Max has one foot in that world, while the other is still planted in our familiar, ho-hum one. The stunts, meanwhile, are pedestrian; the score is an obvious, underlining chore; and there are a number of bug-eyed close-ups that are downright laughable. In short, neither the vision nor the craft is quite there yet, but the seeds have been planted.