In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, crazed gangs rule the highways, fighting it out for valuable gasoline supplies. Max Rockatansky's wife was killed by such a gang and now he travels the roads in a souped-up V8 Interceptor, trying to stay out of trouble but invariably finding it. When he discovers a large outpost in the desert – rich with petrol reserves but under daily siege from a nomadic gang led by the masked Humungus – he sets about trying to get hold of some of this precious gas.
George Miller once compared Mad Max 2 (also well known by its American title The Road Warrior) to the films of Buster Keaton, in particular The General. Keaton was a master of kinetic filmmaking, and Miller's movie is similarly a celebration of energy and movement. The first Mad Max movie was hardly brimming over with complexity in the story department, but here Miller cuts back everything – plot, characters, dialogue – to the barest minimum that will serve his incredible automotive set pieces.
So Max, no cheerier than he was in the first film, manages to get inside the besieged outpost and strikes a deal with the ragtag tribe within. If they supply him with as much petrol as his car will hold, he'll get them a tanker big enough to transport their gasoline supplies across the desert to a seaside paradise 2,000 miles away. Cue a series of thrilling chases as Humungus and his gang attempt to stop Max and seize the juice for themselves.
And boy, are these chases thrilling. Even after 20-odd years of increasingly spectacular car pursuits, few directors have orchestrated so many vehicles or captured their thundering ferocity and speed quite as well as Miller. It helps that he's got mile after mile of deserted Australian desert highway to play with, but with cameras clamped to the side of every car and bike and a trio of editors working overtime, they remain utterly gripping.
The costume and production designs are bizarre but brilliant. Humungus and his gang are the kinkiest bunch of psycho nomads you'll ever meet, clad in chainmail, leather harnesses and shiny helmets, they look like they've strayed off the set of William Friedkin's Cruising. The good guys meanwhile sport a nice line in Middle East-meets-Dynasty robes and shoulder pads; if only for the sake of fashion we should be thankful that the apocalypse never happened in the eighties. And while Mel Gibson is obviously the star, many scenes are stolen by Bruce Spence, playing a crazed gyrocopter pilot who strikes up an uneasy alliance with Max. With his giant toothy grin and fast-talking style (he has more dialogue in one scene than Gibson has in the entire film), Spence provides some necessary humour. He's also the only actor other than Gibson to appear in another Mad Max episode, returning for Beyond Thunderdome four years later.
Mad Max 2 is basically western, from the surly stranger wandering into town to the inevitable showdown with the bad guy on a dusty road. It's also one of the best action movies of the decade – devoid of subtlety but filled to the brim with spectacle. And who needs subtlety when you've got this many exploding cars? Booming music from Brian May – thankfully, not the guy from Queen.
The nineties saw him offer medical drama Lorenzo's Oil (he was once a medical student) plus curious sequel Babe: Pig in the City and in the 2000s he enjoyed the international success of the animated Happy Feet and its sequel. In 2015 he successfully revived his most celebrated franchise in Mad Max: Fury Road. Not to be confused with the other Australian director George Miller.