The Road Warrior (1981) hasn’t aged in the slightest

I first saw this movie when I was 12, in the theaters, and had seen it a few more times over the years, but not in the last 15 years or so. I sat down with my 12-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter to watch this last night, saying, “This is an action classic, you’re going to love it.” But to be honest I wasn’t 100% confident of that – it had been a long time; was my memory better than the actual experience? I was a little worried (just a little) that possibly the movie had dated badly, that the costumes and characters might seem outrageous or contrived, or even worse, cheesy.

I had nothing to worry about. The kids were enthralled, and I discovered this great film all over again. The movie hasn’t aged at all, if anything it’s even better and more impressive knowing that this was done well before the age of CGI. The script is terrific (ever notice how little Max speaks? He probably has less than 20 lines total in this movie – everyone else carries the narrative while Max speaks mostly with his actions), the cinematography is slick and creative, and the soundtrack is heart-pumping. The acting is top-notch throughout, nothing cheesy here, and it’s great to see Mel Gibson before he was The Mel Gibson. My favorite set piece is actually in the middle of the movie when Max brings the rig back to camp, and a few of the bad guys get inside, including Mohawk Guy. In a lesser movie there would have been some kind of simple fight on two sides, but this movie takes its time and uses the moment to establish the traits and motivations of multiple characters, all the while conducting the business of presenting a thrilling action sequence filled with genuine drama and suspense. And then there’s the infamous ending chase. I was a tiny bit worried my kids wouldn’t feel the impact, that in this day and age it might seem “slow” or somehow not spectacular enough. Again, no worries – the choreography and stunts are so impressive and there’s so much tension from all the danger that we all sat up and wrung our hands in our laps until it was over.

Such a great movie. It easily stands up to any action classic out there. The first film of the Mad Max trilogy is an engaging but low-budget affair that isn’t nearly as exciting, and the third movie finally fell into contrived cheesiness in my opinion. But this movie is perfect and nailed everything it needed to. It was a great natural progression from the first movie (what would Max do now that his family is dead and he has nothing in particular to live for?) and it easily goes down as one of the best movies of the 1980s. Here’s hoping the new film, opening soon, keeps it real the way this one did.

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