In 1982, I was 19 and one of the first in line for Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. I must have seen that flick five times in the theater. Taking place a few years after Mad Max (which took place "a few years from now" according to the opening title card), The Road Warrior took the anarchic world of Mad Max and amped it up, moving our titular hero away from civilized areas and into a brutal outback populated by crazed punk-rock warriors. Road Warrior was seminal in a way, spawning a plethora of low-budget 80s post-apocalyptic actioners featuring Mowhawked villains.
If you've seen any of the trailers for Fury Road, you know that Mel Gibson no longer assumes the mantle of Mad Max, but Tom Hardy seems like a solid fit as the new Rockatansky. By casting an actor in his mid 30s, not much older than Mel was in 1985, it is clear that Fury Road is supposed to take place a few years after Thunderdome. Big mistake, in my opinion. I think Fury Road should have been set 30 years later, since 30 years have passed between films. This would allow us to grab some of the great character actors from the first three films and plug them in as Easter eggs to thrill hardcore Mad Max fans like myself. What great character actors? Funny you should ask, because I was just setting down to write about ...
Roger Ward is something of an icon in 70s/80s Ozploitation, that subgenre of violent Down Under cinema that plays on the idiomatic Australian culture. Usually cast as the heavy, he could be counted on to deliver the goods because of his massive figure and booming voice. He is perhaps best known as the terrifying Ritter, a sadistic prison guard in the 1982 cult classic Turkey Shoot (a.k.a. Escape 2000)--he even makes a cameo as The Dictator in the 2014 remake.
The original Mad Max is populated with hulking and monstrous biker villains, and Ward seems like a natural for film. In this outing, however, Ward plays for the good guys. As Fifi, the police chief of MFP (Main Force Patrol, a.k.a. The Bronze), Ward is big as an ox but gentle as a puppy. A tough-minded enforcer with a questionable moral compass (he gives Max and Goose carte blanche on the roads “as long as the paperwork’s clean”), he nonetheless seems to actually care about his charges and the crumbling society they have sworn to protect.
Ward’s most memorable scene occurs when Max, terrified by a brutal assault on his friend Jim Goose, tries to resign from the MFP. Fifi stands shirtless in his office feeding his pet canary and attempts to dissuade Max by delivering the now-famous “no more heroes in the world” speech, Most Mad Max fans know that speech by heart (I know I've worked it into my own motivational lexicon). Although Fifi is not a major character and effectively disappears from the film after this speech, Ward is a commanding screen presence, and his handful of scenes resonate with hardcore Mad Max fans even today. I’d sure love to see what happened to Fifi after the things really went south in this world.
You all remember Savannah Nix, the Jar Jar Binks of the Mad Max series? In Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Savannah was the smarmy leader of a band of nomadic children living in the desert. She was flippant and annoying, and one of the film’s high points is when Max knocks her unconscious.
Let me reiterate: I’m not a huge fan of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Once Max defeats Blaster in the titular ‘Dome, the film seriously slows down (one of the reasons I often say I only enjoy Mad Max Up To and Including Thunderdome). Furthermore, any time a film franchise has to inject diminutive “adorable” creatures, be they Ewoks in Star Wars or precocious itinerant children in Mad Max, it skirts dangerously close to jumping the shark as far as I'm concerned.
Given my complaints, why would I want to see Savannah Nix in Fury Road? Because Helen Buday has matured into a extremely talented actress. In Rolf De Heer's Dingo (1991), one of my favorite films, she has serious sex appeal as Colin Friels’ fierce but supportive wife. In the creepy Alexandra’s Project (2003), also directed by de Heer, she plays a different kind of housewife, one who turns the tables on her neglectful husband in the edgiest and most courageous performance of the year (a role that earned her Best Actress at the 48th Valladolid International Film Festival). Throw in her stage and television work, and you are barely scratching the surface of this woman’s rich resume.
What would a 50ish Savannah Nix look like? I don't know, but I'd be curious to see it. Strain out the precocity, stir in a heavy dose of reality, and you've got yourself a damned interesting character to play with. I would love to see what an actor like Helen Buday would do with a role like that.
Bruce Spence exploded in the face of American audiences as the Gyro Captain in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, a scrawny, jittery, long-toothed rover with the coolest of toys: an uncovered two-man gyro-copter that allowed him to soar above the desert wasteland. Spence returned in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome as Jedediah the Pilot, who flew The Flying Jalopy and with the help of his son, Jedediah Jr., robbed Max in the film’s opening sequence.
Some fans think that the Gyro Captain and Jedediah are the same person, although Mad Max creator/director George Miller adamantly denies it. According to the narration at the end of Road Warrior, the Gyro Captain became the leader of the North Tribe, which means he has moved on to parts unknown. I suppose he could have separated from the group after having Jed Jr. This is, after all, post-apocalypse Australia, where nobody keeps a steady job anymore.
Still, I prefer to think the Gyro Captain and Jedediah are two different people because (a) their personalities are quite different, and (b) Jedediah doesn’t seem to recognize Max when their paths cross in Beyond Thunderdome. And if we're going to get a Bruce Spence cameo, I would much prefer it be as the Gyro Captain, who was much more lively and interesting than Jedediah.
In Road Warrior, the Gyro Captain is a major scene-stealer, chattering like the village idiot to mask his wits and resourcefulness in this dangerous land. Spence is a natural in this kind of role, and the years have added richness his lean, insectoid face. If he is not in Fury Road, he will be sorely missed.
As an 80s action film, Beyond Thunderdome is bearable, but as a Mad Max film it’s abysmal. Hard to decided what I hate the most about it: the reduction in action sequences compared to its predecessors (only one chase scene and that takes place on a rail); the toned-down violence to earn a PG-13 rating; the infusion of Hollywood clichés (one eye-rolling action moment is ripped straight out of Star Wars: A New Hope and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom); or perhaps the presence of Tina Turner, mid-1980s MTV exemplar, as Aunty Entity.
Tina Turner is an amazing woman, but I object to her casting in Beyond Thunderdome. The first two films from the Mad Max series are textbook paradigms of the Aussie New Wave, concatenations of groundbreaking stunt work and off-kilter Aussie colloquialisms set to Brian May’s brassy, aggressive score. By adding Tina Turner and giving her two songs on the soundtrack, the product depreciates from virtuoso to vanilla, smelling too much of formulaic Hollywood product. Don’t get me wrong--I love Tina Turner, and her two singles from the Beyond Thunderdome soundtrack are solid additions to her catalog (“One of the Living” is part of my jogging playlist). They just belong in another film!
In 1983, when I walked out of the theater after viewing Road Warrior, I had to reorient myself to reality. For the previous 96 minutes I had been transported to a different time and place, a world utterly unrecognizable to my middle America sensibilities.With Beyond Thunderdome, there was no such transportation. Tina Turner reminded me that I was watching a movie, and an Americanized mid-80s movie at that.
So why do I want to see her in Fury Road? Because despite my complaints, she is still one of my favorite artists, and as Aunty Entity she is amazing. It’s not just the slinky chain-mail cut high on the hip and low on the cleavage (let’s face it--1985 Tina would look great in a burlap sack). It’s the swag, the assurance, the raw power that emanates from Tina whenever she is onscreen. You can’t take your eyes off of her, and from all recent photographs I've seen that is still the case.
Enough time has passed since Thunderdome to transform Tina from 80s touchstone to timeless icon. At 76, she still has it rocking with her sassy curves and dynamic smile. I wouldn’t want a large role for Aunty Entity, but maybe an Easter egg or two to let us see what she’s been up to. All complaints about Thunderdome aside, I’d gladly drop dollars to see Tina trudging the Outback again.
In the opening scenes of The Road Warrior, Vernon Wells as Wez was the scariest damned thing I had ever seen. He rode a mean Harley. He sported a magenta Mohawk and a caterpillar chin beard long before it became hipster fashionable. His clothes were a mixture of biker leather, American football pads, and pointed spikes. His scream pierced the air like the howl of a rabid Yeti. He got shot in the arm with arrows and then proceeded to pull them out without so much as a wince.
Vernon Wells was terrific as Wez and equally solid in a handful of other 80s staples (he is the creepy Bennett in Commando and even pays homage to Wez in Weird Science). Even though Wez wound up dying (twice!) in The Road Warrior, how sweet would it have been to cast him in Mad Max: Fury Road as some new and interesting character? After all, Hugh Keays-Byrne, the terrifying Toecutter of the first Mad Max film, returns in Fury Road as the main heavy, Immortan Joe. It only seems fitting that Wells should poke his head in a frame or two as well.
You know what would be really cool? Wells playing one of the good guys for a change, a lovable elder statesman like Scott Wilson’s Hershel Greene in The Walking Dead. After all, by all personal accounts, the real Vernon Wells is a big teddy bear with a soft spot for animals and kids.
I know what you’re saying. Goose died in Mad Max.
Well, actually, we don't know that.
If you remember, when we last saw Goose he was under an oxygen tent in the hospital, his body covered with third-degree burns. We assumed that he was on death’s door, but Mad Max never really confirms it. And what is it Goose himself says mere minutes before he is violently attacked?
“Don’t write off the Goose 'til you see the box going into the hole.”
Well, we haven't seen the box go into the hole yet, so why couldn’t Steve Bisley make a cameo as Goose in full English Patient burn make-up? How much time is supposed to have passed between Mad Max and Fury Road anyway? We know the gap between Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome is 15 years, and if we're pretending (as I am) that it's been another 30 years between that film and the release of Fury Road … yeah, Goose could still be kicking it.
The point is, I love this character and would love to see Bisley having another go at it. Goose is the kind of fellow whose vitality and joie de vivre (“He was so full of livin’,” Max says of him) would probably transcend personal tragedy. Even as a burn victim, Goose strikes me as one of those dynamic souls who keeps it jolly even at the height of misery, inspiring those around him.
And isn’t that just what a post-apocalyptic wasteland needs these days … a little inspiration?
The Feral Kid was one of those rare cinematic creations: a child who was sympathetic without being adorable or pretentious. A feisty warrior of the first degree, the Feral Kid is unable to communicate beyond the most basic animal grunts, thus sparing the audience eye-batting cuteness and precocious one-liners. The Kid was a wild animal, not much more evolved that Max’s faithful dog.
So whatever happened to him?
When last we see the Feral Kid, he is heading west with the remainder of Papagallo’s band, and we learn that the husky voice of the narrator is actually his as an adult. Clearly, he grew into a prominent role within this tribe, learning to speak and communicate fluently, and mastering some modicum of narrative technique.
What kind of man would the Feral Kid be today?
In the latest trailer for Fury Road, a character is seen playing a tiny hand-crank music box that looks strikingly similar to the one that Max gave the Feral Kid in Road Warrior. Clearly, Miller is making a callback to the earlier films ... so perhaps we will get to see an adult Feral Kid at some point in the picture?
How cool would it be, however, if we could bring Emil Minty--who has actually done some strong work in Aussie television--to reprise his role? Last I read, he works at a jewelry store in Sydney. He shouldn't be that hard to find.
We all remember how it ended for Johnny the Boy in Mad Max, right? Max, after having taken out every other member of Toecutter’s gang, finds Johnny the Boy looting a dead body at an accident scene. Max handcuffs Johnny’s left ankle to the smashed car, sets up a makeshift incendiary device with gasoline and a lit candle, and tells Johnny that if he's lucky he can saw through his leg in five minutes. The final image of the film is Max driving away as the car explodes behind him.
When Road Warrior came out 1983, my friends and I debated whether or not Johnny would make a cameo missing the lower half of his foot.
When Beyond Thunderdome showed up two years later, once again the debate raged: would Johnny the boy give the film some much-needed face time?
Once again we were disappointed. Talk about a missed Easter egg opportunity!
Well, that oversight can now be rectified. Bring back Johnny the Boy. Tim Burns is still out there. We've seen video of him speaking with the rest of the Mad Max cast at retrospects. And if you can’t get Tim Burns, go to Hollywood and dig up Michael Shaner, who played the suicidal businessman in Lethal Weapon, which also starred Mel Gibson. Shaner bore such a strong resemblance to Burns in his one scene that even today fanboys mistakenly believe they are the same person.
Yeah, yeah, I know. Tom Hardy is the new Max Rockatansky. We all hate Mel Gibson because he has problems with anger and he got drunk and made offensive comments and no amount of contrition will ever earn our forgiveness.
A certain comedic actor refused to do movies with Mel (even though the same comedic actor had no problems sharing screen-time with convicted rapist Mike Tyson), and the movie industry makes out as if Mel’s temper tantrums negate the whole of his amazing contribution to the craft of cinema (even though said industry still gladly slobbers the knob of pederasts Roman Polanski and Woody Allen).
Mel is an awful, awful man.
I get it. I'm supposed to hate the guy, and if I'm any kind of man, I must immediately burn my Braveheart and Lethal Weapon DVDs.
Well, I refuse to do it. Mel Gibson is the one and only Max Rockatansky in my book. As such, he needs to have a cameo in Fury Road.
How would this come about given that Tom Hardy has already been cast as the titular hero? Well, now, that's the twist I'm proposing …
Tom Hardy is ... Max Rockatansky’s son Sprock! Think about it.
Did you really think Sprock was the baby’s real name ... or was it, perhaps, just a nickname and the child's real name was Max Rockatansky Jr.? If we follow this logic, Max Sr., played by Mel, could show up near the end of Fury Road and explain how somewhere in the interim after Beyond Thunderdome, he learned that Sprock actually survived getting mowed down by Toecutter’s marauders in Mad Max, and as such Max Sr. has devoted the last 30 years to finding his son.
It kind of makes sense. Tom Hardy was born in 1977, making him roughly the same age as Sprock when Mad Max was being filmed. So why couldn't we force in this twist and keep the continuity with the first three pictures?
I will tell you this much, if he actually was the real Mad Max's son, he'd be a hell of a lot cooler than the spawn of Indiana Jones.
Cameo Honorable Mention
A really, really, skinny young thang singing “Licorice Ride.” Only true Mad Max fans will know what I mean.