“Out here, everything hurts.” | The Entire Mad Max Universe Explained Up to Furiosa And Mad Max: The Wasteland

To celebrate 45 years of Mad Max, and in anticipation of the two upcoming instalments in the franchise Furiosa and Mad Max: The Wasteland, Kevin Burke breaks down the importance of place and action in the high adrenaline action-adventure films that have defined the road movie as a genre.

“A true leader does not need others to make him strong. A true leader gives others the strength to stand alone.”

George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max is not just a cult dystopian movie series. Since the original minimalistic, B-movie landed forty-five years ago, George Miller’s vision has become an industry in itself. The same man that produced and wrote Babe (1995) and directed its follow-up Babe: Pig In The City (1998) managed to create a broken world without empathy. 

The Mad Max franchise is the ultimate macho festival. A world where guns and cars are as important as the characters themselves, at times providing the pivotal moments of cool. It is a petrol head’s wet dream, and the outlaws that roam this post-apocalyptic world replace the cowboys from the movies of long ago. 

Looking closer, it is the landscape and the hopelessness that is the subject of the movies, not just the characters. After the first movie – which shows a more anchored Max, a family man and someone with everything to lose – the narrative shifts. The figure of ‘Max’ becomes more of a representation of survival and hope, and a guiding light in the wasteland, than a man who simply drifts from struggle to struggle. He becomes a subplot to the overall movie, not the main subject, as shown in 2015’s Fury Road, and in the latest outing Furiosa. While that movie is set in the Mad Max universe, it is not his story, and not his adventure. 


Going back to the start then, through a thread of forty-five years, we can trace how that character shifted. In truth he was the vehicle into this desolation, and the trick as George Miller has shown, is to make other characters as strong as the hero. That is what makes the franchise so rewarding and gives an insight into the longevity of Mad Max. 

Mad Max (1979)

Mad Max, the place where it all began, is the ultimate road movie. Made for approximately $400,000 Australian Dollars, this movie reaped $100 million US, which gives you an idea of its impact. We find law enforcer Max Rockatansky from the Main Force Police protecting the highways of a near-future Australia on the edge of civil collapse. As Max grows weary protecting the oil trucks and keeping order, his best friend and fellow MFP officer Goose (Steve Bisley) is badly burnt and left clinging to life. Totally disheartened and with a wife and child, Max quits, and tries to leave that life behind. That is until the biker gang led by Toecutter (the late Hugh Keays-Byrne), the same gang that almost killed his best friend, catches up with his wife and child and murder them on a highway.

It’s here Max snaps, steals a black V8 Special Pursuit car from his former employer and exacts revenge on the bikers responsible. Between the roar of the V8 engine, and the figure cut by Gibson as a man damaged and desperate for revenge, this film ticks all the boxes. It is no surprise as to why and how it became a cult classic, and remains a vital piece of cinematography.

Mad Max II (1981)

With a much larger budget of $4.5 million, Miller expands the universe and still hangs onto that gritty violence. Following on from the first film, we find Max with his weathered V8, a drifter in the desert, and searching for a purpose to justify his existence. In Mad Max II we find a savage wasteland where society has collapsed, and the flow of oil is the most precious commodity.

Max comes across an iron fortress in the desert where oil is still pumped and humanity still exists. Of course Max agrees to help them, only after his own beloved V8 is smashed by a gang who threaten this small enclave. He agrees to drive a truck load of oil to a northern paradise. With the truck armored, Max drives into a storm of marauders led by the psychotic Lord Humungus (Kjell Nilsson). This is really some of the best action of the original trilogy. The machine-driven muscle is off the charts, the range of characters pulls extra depth to the narrative, and the ending is unexpectedly sentimental. 

Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985) 

This is where Hollywood entered the landscape. The last of the original Mel Gibson trilogy and with the largest budget of $10 million, Beyond Thunderdome was the least successful of the three. Even with the inclusion of Tina Turner as the evil Aunty Entity – who coincidentally sang the hit theme song ‘We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)’ – the film made less than Mad Max II. It is too smooth around the edges and misses out on the brutal and stark aesthetic that made the previous two outings so successful.

It is more Peter Pan than a road warrior epic. Max now finds himself in Bartertown under the watch of Aunty. After Max refuses to kill a man in a duel in the Thunderdome arena, he is exiled to the desert. There he finds a group of children and teens, survivors of a plane crash who believe he is their captain and saviour. Really it becomes a weaker version of the previous, and does not build upon the overall narrative or take the formula in another direction. 

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) 

After an absence of thirty-years, George Miller returned to his original project. That is minus Mel Gibson as Max, a role filled by Tom Hardy – who really isn’t necessary to the movie. The real star of this movie is Furiosa (Charlize Theron), maybe unintentionally, and she steals every scene in a movie based on her journey. We find Max in his V8 – which gets destroyed again, which is confusing. Maybe he is not Max Rockatansky. Nevertheless, this is a ride into a high octane hellscape, as Max finds himself caught up in an escape by Furiosa from the evil Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne again).

Aboard Furiosa’s war rig – a high armored truck – is the five wives of Immortan Joe. As a result, a pursuit across the desert, similar to Mad Max II, ensues. However, despite (or perhaps because of) this, Fury Road is one of the best action movies of this century. The overall plot, the war machines, the touches of humour and the heartbreak of Furiosa as she tries desperately to find her home, a mythical oasis of water and growth in the unforgiving desert universe known as the Green Place, makes this a perfect vehicle for entertainment. And it is no surprise that Miller set his sights on expanding on the character of Furiosa. 

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024) 

That brings us right up to date – for better or worse. After Mad Max: Fury Road, and hugeuly popular reception to its powerful heroine Furiosa, this movie was bound to happen. However, instead of Theron as the title character, we get the equally impressive Anna Taylor-Joy. Furiosa is a backstory, and set fifteen years before the exploits of Fury Road.

We will learn how Furiosa is taken from her homeland, the Green Place, by a biker gang led by Warlord Dementus (Chris Hemsworth), and how she originally collaborates with Immortan Joe (Lachy Hume) for revenge. This is again directed by, co-written and co-produced by George Miller, and depending on the reception, this could be his last foray into the world he created forty-five years ago. 

Mad Max: The Wasteland (202?)

With word of another sequel, it appears that we will find ourselves back in Mad Max’s universe again for at least one more instalment with Tom Hardy. And with a name like Mad Mad: The Wasteland, it sounds like the world of the film will once again play a pivotal role in the action.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Story will be in Irish cinemas from 24th of May.

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