Directed by: George Miller and George Ogilvie. As a pre-note, I don’t know why this movie had two people directing it. Normally there’s an interesting story to tell about such things, like P.T. Anderson taking over for an ailing Robert Altman on A Prairie Home Companion, or Richard Donner bailing ship on Superman II to be replaced by (of all people) Richard Lester. I suspect something similar happened in this case, because the overall tone and feel of this film is a lot different from the first two films, directed by the franchise’s mastermind, George Miller. And between the difference in feel, the feeling of a compromised, excessive Hollywoodization of the Mad Max universe in this film, and the fact that Miller directed the other two films (and the upcoming Tom Hardy film!) by himself, my hunch on this one is that Miller started out directing it as normal, but that the producers, with dollar signs in their eyes as always, didn’t like the way Miller was doing it and bumped him over for someone the studio could rely on to appeal to the Hollywood market, give Tina Turner lots of close ups, and let Mel Gibson’s acting get a bit too Lethal Weapon and a bit less Road Warrior. Frankly, other than the costume, this character has very little resemblance to the Max of the other films. For starters, he has an awful lot of dialogue, more than Mad Max needs to have—who wants their grim, post-apocalyptic anti-hero to be chatty? And also, as far as dialogue goes, it just feels off, it doesn’t feel like the same guy. I didn’t take notes, so I can’t give you examples, but there are a lot of moments in the inflection of his voice, his pronunciation and—even worse—in his facial expressions that owe more to his goofy antics in Lethal Weapon, Maverick, What Women Want, and (one can only assume), in the fucking Beaver movie too, than to the dour, muted, weighty, stoicism-via-cynicism of the previous films. I don’t mean to rag on Mel’s acting here—I’ll do that later. Even if the central character had managed to maintain a sense of continuity with the other films and contributed to a believable and seamless fictional world (and it totally didn’t), this film has enough other garbage going on to undermine the internal believability of the film world, and all of the characters living in it, and all of the things that the characters do in it, and basically everything that happens from the fade in to the fade out.
This franchise was always marked by a sense of exaggeration, was always a little bit too much, but I felt like the narrative and the setting accounted for that fairly well. For example, in The Road Warrior, the mohawk guy with assless chaps snarling and howling was a bit much, but it’s a dystopian wasteland, and it seemed to me a fairly plausible bit of futurist speculation and an adroit piece of creative world-making to include this particular character carrying on in that particular way. If you encounter a guy with a mohawk and assless chaps in the Australian desert after the fall of civilization, as he’s leaning out of a motorcycle sidecar, pointing a crossbow at you, it strikes me as internally consistent with that situation to see the same gentleman expressing himself in an incoherent way, with lots of snarling and yowling and whooping. Maybe I’m being too subtle. The point is, the ridiculous shit in this movie just seemed a bit much, and a bit more much than what this narrative could satisfactorily account for. The old fascist one-eyed dwarf who lives on the shoulders of a muscle-bound guy with Down’s Syndrome in an iron mask (and if you can think of a more graceful and politically correct way of describing those characters, I’d love to hear it) seemed a bit…much. And the tribe of innocent children with their own fake “tribe” speech and tribal garb, like a less interesting and less insightful version of Peter Pan‘s Lost Boys speaking Clockwork Orange‘s fake slang, stranded on the Lord of Flies island, all seemed a bit…much. And as much as I love Tina Turner, basically everything she’s doing in this movie is either a bit much or not enough—does that make sense? But really, I should be grateful because this film brought me a revelation (although it’s not exactly a novel insight). I guess I always knew that Mel Gibson wasn’t a good actor, but it took this movie for me to realize what kind of a not-good actor he is, and I finally got it—he’s the Australian Al Pacino. The hitch is that instead of the first two Godfather movies in his pocket showing his legit acting cred that tragically slides off into self-parody and scenery-chewing that almost totally eclipses the quality work done early in his career, in Gibson’s case that’s the first two Mad Max movies and Gallipoli. Respectable, but not groundbreaking. And then, instead of turning into Heat, it turns into Braveheart. Enough said, right? Post-note: a consultation of Wikipedia tells me that this film truly was co-directed by Miller and Ogilvie, stating that they used “a group workshopping rehearsal technique that they had developed,” whatever the fuck that means.