The movie is set "a few years from now" in a bleak, dystopian version of Australia that is facing a complete and total breakdown of civil order, as evident by roads cleverly named "Anarchie." How bad is it? Police officers, wearing leather BSDM costumes as uniforms, struggle to protect the Outback's few remaining townspeople from violent motorcycle gangs, presumably because dominatrix police officers aren't really taken all that seriously.
Max (played by Mel Gibson) is really the last badass — but mostly psychotic — cop left in existence, and seemingly he's the only person alive who knows how to drive decently anymore.
Case in point: Max actively engages in and wins a game of chicken against an insane escaped convict and cop-killer named Nightrider, whose been using his superior driving skills in a bid to add "Attempted murder" to his criminal record by driving the pursuing officers of their high-speed chase to near death. Don't worry, Max's intervention in the high-speed chase ends with Nightrider's death in a fiery car crash.
I would have expected a game of chicken in Lethal Weapon from Mel "Martin Riggs" Gibson, who lost his wife and is thoroughly convinced he has nothing to live for. But Mel "Mad Max" Gibson has a wife and son, all living a rather prosperous life given the amount of destruction and decay their surrounding environment is experiencing. Max just doesn't give a shit.
Nightrider's gang, led by Toecutter (because the nickname "Finger Blaster" was already taken), plan to avenge Nightrider's death by killing all the officers involved in Nightrider's demise — including, of course, Max.
Sounds like a standard, run-of-the-mill action flick. So why did it suck?
1. Painfully Low Budget
Director George Miller, the same man who brought us "Babe: Pig in the City" and "Happy Feet," didn't have much to work with when it came to cold, hard moolah. I'm not saying a HUGE production budget for an action film is required, but it certainly helps so your action sequences don't look like they were thrown together by the mind of Jerry Bruckheimer's mentally challenged brother — whom you might know as Michael Bay.
Miller had around a $400,000 budget to work with and had to raise the money by working as an emergency room doctor. Relax, he is an experienced medical doctor.
To keep production within budget, Miller repainted cars to pass as different cars, often being driven while the paint was still wet; had the motorcycles in the movie donated by Kawasaki; hired an actual biker gang called the Vigilantes to star; completed post-production at a friend's apartment in North Melbourne on a home-built editing machine; smashed his own fucking van in the opening chase since production was running out of money; cut 20% of the chase scenes from the film; and finally, only gave Mel Gibson and actor Steve Bisley jackets and pants made from real leather, all other police officers wore vinyl outfits.
2. What's in the Box?
In a climatic scene that caused the movie to initially be banned in New Zealand, Max's best friend Goose is burned alive by Toecutter and his gang in a heated retaliation. Goose survives, but is charred beyond recognition.
A tense scene starts to formulate as Max enters the burn unit of the hospital to see his friend. Goose's hand drops from the hospital bed, revealing what looks like a pack of hotdogs left on a Fourth of July grill too long. It's bad, really bad. Adding to the intensity, Max is about to pull the protective sheet covering all of Goose's BBQed body. Slowly, slowly. Max's face turns to horror! And then... CUT TO THE NEXT SCENE. We don't even get to see Goose's best Joan of Arc impression! Instead we got a collective:
3. The Turning Point Took FOREVER
The plot summary for Mad Max according to IMDb: "A vengeful Australian policeman sets out to avenge his partner, his wife and his son whom were murdered by a motorcycle gang in retaliation for the death of their leader."
Fuck me for being wrong, but I whole-heartedly expected the murder of his wife and son right in the beginning of the film, reserving the other 89 minutes for Max to shoot at any goddamn movement like his bullets were about to reach their expiration date.
The majority of the movie followed the motorcycle gang around as they vandalized property, stole fuel, terrorized citizens, picked up Nightrider's corpse-filled casket, and brutally raped a woman and a man (yes, they raped a man). The murder of his family — THE catalyst for his transformation from mentally deranged cop to mentally deranged judge, juror and executioner — doesn't happen until the very end of the film. That's like following Alex Murphy around for a boring episode of COPS and only transforming him into Robocop for the final shootout.
Finally in a fit of fury, Max gets revenge on the entire gang, killing every last one of them. The last guy, I might add, was killed using a deathtrap rigged with gasoline that would have made Jigsaw take notes.
But whatever. From what I understand, the sequel, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, is far superior to the original. By now, no one cares about the first Mad Max, or the first Terminator, or Batman Begins, or Robert Downey Sr. anyway.