The return of Max Rockatansky

George Miller directed Mel Gibson in his first-ever lead role as Max Rockatansky in “Mad Max”. Photo courtesy of Kennedy Miller Productions/Warner Bros.

Five or six years ago, Hollywood film companies made a truly profitable decision when they began to write prequels for classic film franchises. We finally had some highly-imaginative films coming out (Batman Begins, Casino Royale, Terminator Salvation) seeking to explain the origins of some of our favorite characters.

We shouldn’t find it surprising then, that Hollywood has reimagined Max Rockatansky; that lone cowboy of the Australian outback from George Miller’s three highly-successful Mad Max films: Mad Max (1979), Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985). On May 15, 2015, Miller will release his fourth Mad Max film entitled Mad Max: Fury Road. It is bound to be a blockbuster.

The Mad Max films made Mel Gibson into an international star and helped bring Australian cinema to a new global audience. Miller released Mad Max in the same year that Ridley Scott released Alien, but he imagined a vastly different and more dystopian future. Instead of using space-age technology to battle the unknown (and extra-terrestrials), we were using chainsaws to hack up our depraved and familiar human selves in a brutish, primal way. In Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, everyone covets oil and the precious few resources that remain strewn about an arid desert wasteland. The frontier of our future promises not hope and discovery. There is only the despair and loneliness of the hot, dusty Australian landscape.

“Mad Max” was filmed entirely on location in Melbourne, Victoria. The sequels were filmed in parts of New South Wales and in the small, isolated opal mining town of Coober Pedy in South Australia. Photo courtesy of MGM Studios

The Australian outback depicted in Mad Max persists as one of our defining narrative settings. In the national consciousness of Australia, little rivals the vast nothingness of physical space. Many places in Australia still identify with the removal from civilization invoked in these films. The violence confronting Max Rockatansky seems all the more devastating because it happens against the backdrop of desolation, far away from the order of law. Miller used this setting to great effect in his films, which I believe were far ahead of their time. The motorcycle and car stunts arguably rank among the best in film history. In terms of costume and set design, Mad Max set the template for how future directors would construct a post-apocalyptic future. I would argue that there isn’t a film or video game in this genre that doesn’t reference Mad Max in its look and feel. Max Rockatansky’s world is murderous, dirty, and cobbled together from the wrought iron remains of a society long gone after a nuclear war. In my view, the Mad Max franchise remains a high benchmark in the history of Australian New Wave cinema.

Cinematographer David Eggby filming a sequence from “Mad Max”. Photo courtesy of MGM Studios

Mel won’t be back, but Max Rockatansky will, played by the English actor Tom Hardy. I am extremely hopeful for Mad Max: Fury Road, and relieved that George Miller will once again write and direct. We can only hope that this next installment lives up to expectations, to carry on this priceless legacy of Australian cinema.

Tom Hardy will play Max Rockatansky in "Mad Max: Fury Road" (2015)

Tom Hardy will play Max Rockatansky in “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015)