Blues (Peter Fonda) is the leader of a chapter of Californian Hell's Angels. He turns up at the workplace of his friend Loser (Bruce Dern) to tell him that his missing motorcycle has been found, but the encounter ends up costing Loser his job. Regardless, the Angels set off for a Mexican garage where they suspect the bike has ended up, but they're headed for trouble with the police...
This exploitation expose, scripted by Charles B. Griffith, was very controversial in its day for its violence and nihilistic attitude. It also started a whole cycle (pardon the pun) of Hell's Angels movies, and can also be seen as the precursor to Easy Rider, although it's brutal characters and lack of plot have a style all their own. These men and women only care about speed, dope, sex and alcohol - nothing matters except having a good time all the time, especially if it's at society's expense.
There are some great lines that sum up the approach: when a Highway Patrolman pulls up alongside the Angels and asks them where they're going, one replies, "Anywhere but here, man!" The Man is the main obstacle in the path to a true good time, as is made plain when Loser is shot in the back after stealing a police motorbike. The Angels want to be free to do what they want to do, but their freedom includes the right to kick other people's heads in and rape women as they see fit. Of course if they'd trusted society a little more, then Loser wouldn't have died when they "liberated" him from the hospital.
The cinematography ensures the film looks very fine in its outdoor scenes, with the vast, sunbaked, desert plains making the film look like a Sergio Leone western with motorbikes. Hand held cameras lend a gritty look to proceedings, too. As for the two leads, Fonda and Nancy Sinatra (playing his girlfriend) prove that coolness does not necessarily guarantee talent, but their limited acting suits the tone. The rest of the gang (which includes some authentic Angels) are appropriately rowdy, with brawling men and available women - one party scene resembles a medieval shindig.
The sequence that provokes the most controversy is the funeral (the undertaker wonders if a vet signed the death certificate!), where the bikers take over a church, with Loser's coffin draped in a swastika flag. They get a reluctant preacher to take the service, but his talk of God angers Blues, and he delivers his famous "And we want to get loaded!" speech, before the assembled throng wreck the church, beat up the preacher, gang rape Loser's girlfriend (Diane Ladd), fight, drink and smoke dope. After all that, Blues reasons there's nowhere left to go, and he's probably right, the Wild Angels have done it all in the name of self expression.