Today’s premiere of “Mad Max: Fury Road” got me thinking about the original films and its memorable characters—I grew up with the “Mad Max” movies—and of course, their guns.
I remember Max and his cool dog and equally cool car. I think of the huge bad guy, Humongous, screaming through his bullhorn, dressed like an S&M nightmare, wielding a scoped S&W Model 29. I recall how Max pretended to have ammo in his sawed-off, double-barrel shotgun–and hardly ever did.
The dystopian, fuel-starved world Max inhabited was bleak in the way only ‘80s movies could be, and there was something particularly frightening about it all that I couldn’t put my finger on until long after I saw them as a kid. In an era when good guys in action movies were defined by firepower and brute force, there weren’t many guns in Max’s dusty version of Australia by comparison.
In the mid-nineteenth century, when firearms were mass-produced and could be loaded and fired relatively easily, people began thinking of guns as equalizers for good reason. It no longer mattered how big you were, how smart, or even how old. You didn’t even need to be able to walk. As long as you could point and shoot, you basically had the same chance as another person at winning a fight. Of course, people figured out new ways of one-upping each other through speed, cunning, deceit, and tactics, but the narrative still holds true.
In Max’s world, fuel is scarce—so scarce people routinely kill each other for it. The only thing that seems scarcer is ammunition.
The first film in the series, “Mad Max” (1979), had quite a few guns, though the film’s low budget limited it mostly to old Mausers and shotguns. Everybody had ammo, since it was set just as the world was teetering on the edge of total collapse. The whole movie is strangely paced and not particularly memorable, save for a few scenes. But it was the first “Mad Max” movie, and it introduced a very young Mel Gibson as Max Rockatansky.
The series hits its stride in the second film, “Road Warrior: Mad Max 2” (1981). It had a bigger budget, and consequently a bigger story. Still set in Australia, Max fights bizarre groups of outlaws who drive around the desert in chopped, weaponized vehicles as they search for fuel and food. But you don’t see them brandishing shotguns and rifles or with .50-caliber machine guns mounted on their cars…because nobody had any ammo. The factories had stopped running a long time before, and there isn’t exactly a lot of supplies or opportunity for reloading when you’re trying to outrun gas-hungry lunatics in dune buggies. Everyone relies mostly on pointed or edged weapons made from scrap metal and crossbows, large and small. Plus there’s a feral kid who’s really good with that edged boomerang. But not many shots are fired.
Through the first quarter of the movie, Max threatens The Gyro Captain and others with his sawed-off shotgun, but later reveals that it’s very unloaded and probably hasn’t seen a shell in a long time. That’s a frightening situation, because for these people, being armed means being able to try to defend themselves. The raiders had powerful vehicles plus the will and the numbers to take what they wanted. And most of the time, that’s all they needed to win. The old-Western ideal of the good guy sauntering into town with his sidearm, horse, and dog aren’t enough in Mad Max’s reality. In this world, the horse is a car that gets destroyed, the dog gets killed, and the gun has no shells.
When Max gains the trust of the people in the outpost town and one gives him the priceless gift of a handful of dusty shotgun shells, you feel the void left by the absence of firearms in their world. You feel it even more when the last of the shells turns out to be a dud and fizzles in the chamber…just when Max needs it to fire.
The style, effects, stunts, and the unique way the film used guns to tell part of its story made “Road Warrior” a classic. It was so well done I even forgave the follow-up Tina-Turner-starring “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.”
Now we face a new Mad Max movie. I’ve been viscerally sick of the Hollywood trend toward remakes and reboots after seeing what they did to other 80s classics, such as “Robocop” and “Red Dawn.” So when I first heard about “Mad Max: Fury Road,” and that the actor who played Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises” was going to play Max, and that Charlize Theron was involved somehow, my hopes weren’t the highest. And let’s not forget that the original trilogy only had one really good hit in it—and it was a strange brew of style, imagery, and timing that’s hard to replicate.
But as teasers and then trailers began to drop, “Fury Road” has started to look more and more promising. The weirdness is still there; the chases are there; Charlize Theron is bald and has a robot hand; Tom Hardy looks pretty cool as Max; the bad guys look fierce. So it has a good chance of being not terrible.
Something else I noticed from the footage in the trailers: There seems to be a good number of guns in the movie. I hope the scarcity of ammo is something the filmmakers have carried through from the original movies. It’s encouraging that they aren’t super-flashy guns, but things that might be left over if the world collapsed tomorrow.
Some scenes used in trailers obviously don’t make it to the final cut of the film, but the guns in the gallery below are a good approximation of what’s coming in the hardware department. Keep your fingers crossed that this movie won’t hit Blu-Ray in a week and end up in the $2.99 bin at Wal-Mart.
Max, at least for a time, carries a Glock 17 that we can see him sneaking around with and firing from a vehicle. In one scene, he has the Glock and what appears to be a Taurus PT92 in his other hand.
Webley .455 Revolver
Giving us hope that the new movie hasn’t strayed too far from the source material, Charlize is seen loading what looks to be a Webley .455 Revolver with her robot hand.
Immortan Joe’s Colt Python
Somewhat keeping with tradition, the main bad guy, Immortan Joe, wields a stainless Colt Python instead of Humongous’ scoped S&W Model 29 from “Road Warrior.”
Heckler & Koch MP5K-PDW
There’s a shot in the trailer of a bandit double-wielding a pair of Heckler & Koch MP5K-PDWs atop a vehicle. He’ll need to find a lot of 9mm rounds in the desert for those.
Charlize Theron’s character, Furiosa, looks to favor a variant of a Russian Simonov Type 45, aka the “SKS rifle.” It has a lug for a fixed bayonet, but no bayonet or cleaning rod. Two top rails have been added along with some kind of grip on the forestock. In one shot, she’s seen using it with a scope.
Pennsylvania Long Rifle
Max apparently goes completely old-school in one scene by firing some kind of flintlock rifle, possibly a Pennsylvania rifle in .40 caliber.
Sawed-Off Double Barrel
In the original “Mad Max,” Mel Gibson’s character carried a sawed-off VG Bentley shotgun. It memorably rode in a holster on Max’s leg. He continued to carry the gun into Road Warrior, until he lost it near the end of the film.
The critics seem to like their early look at the new film, but what remains to be seen is whether Tom Hardy manages to out-Max the original Max, Mel Gibson. A few promotional photos have shown Max with a sawed-off shotgun, but it remains to be seen if it’s just a nod to the original series, or if it will be Max’s primary weapon like it was in the Mel days.