It was a given that Mel Gibson’s fierce warrior Max Rockatansky would return given the success of George Miller’s Mad Max, and lo in 1982 he returned to lead a ragtag bunch of survivors across a post-apocalyptic wasteland while being attacked by an army of crazed punks. To them, he was a leader. A saviour. The Road Warrior.
Having composed an exceptionally brilliant and savage score for Mad Max, Brian May was brought back on board with a mission of approaching things a little differently. Less atonal than the previous score (which May described as “jagged”), the mythic tones that Mad Max 2 played with needed to be produced by a larger orchestra with more melodic ideas, while still keeping the general dystopian colour. With the story having a large Western influence, May’s score is bigger and bolder illustrating the raised stakes in what is essentially a two-hour chase movie.
Similarly to the first score, May’s thematics are more fragmented motifs than anything, with unification left more to the orchestration and instrumentation. Two motifs stand out; the first a long reflective string line that has a sense of regret and encapsulates the character of Max and his drifting in and out of myth and legend. The other is a shorter more urgent and heroic high string motif that sounds a bit like the Rebel Fanfare, which reoccurs towards the end of the album.
The action music is, as you’d imagine, huge, more in force than size. The album actually starts with a sound effect, of the Feral Kid’s boomerang that immediately leads into huge propulsive and urgent brass and military percussion, and it’s like this for the score on the whole. But it’s never boring. May’s music has such personality and there’s this constant sense of desolation and tension, with big tuba blasts and electronic hums. And there’s an interesting optimism and hope that’s present for Max, as the archetypal western heroic type.
Keeping the edge of the previous score while increasing the stakes emotionally and viscerally, Mad Max 2 is a magnificent score. Though out of order, the album is a fantastic listen – despite the weird “SFX suite” – and it still holds up as one of the best action scores ever written.
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior is available on CD and digital from Varese Sarabande