The Road Warrior (as it was titled on release in the States in 1982) is a film directed by George Miller and released in Australia as Mad Max 2 in 1981. It is the sequel to the hugely successful Mad Max, which was made for a pittance and had the highest profit against production of any film until the Blair Witch Project.
Mad Max told the story of an Australian highway patrol officer dealing with gangs threatening society (as society itself was under threat from oil shortage wars). Max himself becomes more and more disillusioned with his actions, starting to understand that his job was becoming little different in execution from that of the gangs, and quits... but then the inevitable tragedy strikes and he becomes bent on a path of vicious revenge. There is action, terror and a believable idea of what could happen if the fabric of our civilisation becomes torn.
The sequel takes place a few years after the above events, and what has happened in between is touched on by a narrator, describing the breakdown of cities over some sort of third world war, illustrated to us on screen with footage of the second world war, and a few scenes from Mad Max. The survivors have retreated into the outback, and it's a matter of kill or be killed.
Miller filmed the sequel with a budget ten times that of his previous film, and we also get ten times the action. As the opening narration ends, we leap across a highway with Max (and his dog) in the 'last of the V8 Interceptors', being chased by a gang of cars and bikes. Some of the gang is dressed in the very outfits of the highway patrol of the first film, suggesting that the suits have been taken, or the men have joined the next gang in power. One of the men chasing on a bike is large, with a bright red mohawk and leather chaps, who we later learn is named Wez. Wez has a collared young man riding pillion, dubbed the Golden Youth. Wez gets hit by an arrow as Max skillfully evades his pursuers, and, his car stalling by a Mack truck, refuels as he stares down Wez, who grimaces and growls down the road before swinging away.
Max later encounters a gyrocopter pilot, tricking him to reveal a much larger source of fuel, which is a community with an oil well. Unfortunately, it's under siege by a very large gang, led by very large metal masked man named Humongous, whose main henchman is the fierce Wez. A few vehicles from the community try to escape, are caught, and the people (in no particular order) raped, beaten, torched and impaled. Max saves one, making a deal in trade for fuel. But he then has to make another deal for fuel: getting that Mack truck so the community can escape with their oil to try for a paradise in the north.
You get the idea: various circumstances lead our protagonist into further and larger action sequences involving cars, bikes, trucks, helicoptors, flame throwers, guns, arrows, snakes, tridents, Molotov cocktails, and the road. This all funnels into a final action sequence where Max, blinded in one eye and probably with a broken leg and arm, drives the truck, with people on guard atop it, chased by Humungous and his whole gang, and a very very angry Wez. (Wez is cheesed because the Feral Kid-- a eight year old boy from the community with unruly hair, no speaking ability, and clothes of rabbit fur-- has wielded his metal boomarang into the head of the Golden Youth.) If you haven't seen the film, there's a final twist to the story, which is hinted at a few times.
The Road Warrior exploded the story of the first film into the definition of a post-apocalyptic action film, while still growing the story of Max: although he has lost everything, he is not a savage; although he's a scavenger, he honours agreements. He is still mad, and still lost, however. He is given the chance to join the community, but rejects it, and the Feral Kid's fascination, several times. The Feral Kid turns out to be the narrator, and claims that the Road Warrior learned to live again by helping save the community, but the only reason he does help save them is because he has no other choice for any chance of survival.
The Humungous is hinted as being a former military officer, and makes war-like platitudes through a microphone at the besieged community. But he can barely restrain his gang as he tries to get at the oil for more power to establish a stronger community himself. The gangs following him are given the names The Smegma Crazies and the Gayboy Berzerkers. In poor punk imitation, wearing S&M clothing cast-offs, they are both ridiculous and terrifying, showing that the ethos of marauding will only sustain them into a faster death. The community is also torn apart, but as one girl starts to escape with the gyrocoptor pilot, she turns back, noting that 'this is my family'. This family, with the idea of defence and sustainable survival, is the only way civilisation can carry on. They need people like Max who can sacrifice themselves for humanity to live on, but can only accept this sacrifice if it is freely given.
Mad Max 2 has had many imitators, and still not one has surpassed it. It lay down the groundwork for today's interpretations of dystopia, spared no punches in showing us what it could be like, yet allowed a sliver of hope: We can survive, but we also need to be human.
I first saw Mad Max 2 double billed at a drive-in with its further sequel, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (The second half of which could reasonably be interpreted as mostly a 'mad' vision by Max.). Being in the summer, the sunset was still in effect as we drove in, with muscle cars and lowriders and Harleys zipping around the circumference, kicking gravel dust up. If you have the chance to see any of these sorts of films at a drive-in, please give them your patronage, rather than the soul-less multiplex (Plus, free parking!).
I recommend the first film if you haven't seen it. Waterworld --which is about the same plot, with less action, but all... on water!-- might be enjoyable if paired with Thunderdome. For comparably good car chase action, go no further than Ronin (and for visceral effect, Death Proof). For a decently fun tribute to Mad Max 2 (and Escape from New York), only with Scottish people and an eyepatched babe, see Doomsday. For more Australian post-apocalyptic fun, you'll have to check out Tank Girl.