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Mad Max: The Road Warrior’s (Perfect) Missing Lord Humungus Backstory


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The Road Warrior’s Lord Humungus is one of the Mad Max franchise’s most memorably scary villains, but what was the character’s original backstory, and why did it fit so perfectly in the lore of the series? Released in 1979, the original Mad Max is a sparse, chilling revenge thriller that bears little immediate resemblance to its later, zanier sci-fi sequels.

When viewed as a cohesive unit, it becomes clear that Happy Feet helmer George Miller’s ambitious multi-movie vision for the Mad Max franchise does repeatedly touch on similar themes throughout its four installments. But on first viewing, the tonal leap from Mad Max’s grim psychological thriller story to The Road Warrior’s campy post-apocalyptic road rage seems vast. However, there’s a missing bit of backstory shared by Mad Max and The Road Warrior which would have not only connected both movies but also clarified their recurring themes.

Mad Max sees Mel Gibson play the titular antihero, a tough police officer who starts the movie as a cop attempting to keep the peace in a small city only to end its action as a battle-hardened, vengeance-crazed angel of death. Having lost his partner and family to a crazed criminal gang, Max murders his way through the hoodlums and ends the movie a troubled shell of his former self, which is how viewers meet him in the post-apocalyptic milieu of 1981's first sequel to the cult hit, The Road Warrior. However, viewers never see evidence that Max’s badly burnt partner Jim Goose has actually been killed by the gang’s arson attack—and there’s a compelling, almost-canon reason for that.

The Original Lord Humungous Backstory

 

An evident influence on Fury Road’s later series baddie Immortan Joe, Lord Humungus is a terrifying (if surprisingly flamboyant) warlord who rules the desert setting of The Road Warrior with an iron fist. A chillingly well-spoken masked murderer, Lord Humungus is so-called because his band of devoted followers, including the crazed Wez, who are willing and eager to die by his command. Viewers never actually get a glimpse beneath the villain’s mask, mostly because Max and Humungus barely cross paths throughout the movie’s mile-a-minute action. Originally, the reason that Lord Humungus’ face is hidden, as well as the reason he and Max have had such minimal communication, was revealed at the close of The Road Warrior’s action.

Viewers would have learned, in writer/director/series creator Miller’s first draft of the sequel, that Humunugus was none other than Max’s badly burnt former police partner Jim Goose. Thought to have died at the close of Mad Max, the sequel would have revealed that he survived but lost his mind, gained a cult following (the bad kind), and became the camp warlord that The Road Warrior is famous for. It would have been a bombshell twist and justifies how little back-and-forth is shared by Max and Humungus in the finished film, as any longer in spent in the villain's company would have guaranteed Max might recognize his former partner.

How The Backstory Affects The Mad Max Universe

 

The twist is a solid shock in pure storytelling terms, and given how little plot the Mad Max movies have in general, the clever connection wouldn’t have gone amiss. But the real reason this backstory should have stayed in The Road Warrior is that this missing bit of plot could have been the connective tissue that brought together the original, relatively realistic Mad Max and its campy, pure sci-fi sequels by bridging the gap between Max’s pre-apocalypse first outing and its sillier sequel. As it stands, there’s an oft-noted world of tonal difference between the sparse 1979 thriller (which at some points watches like Straw Dogs or Deliverance) and the uber-influential sequels (which are much more far-fetched and cartoony, and thus more akin to The Running Man or even Waterworld). Bringing a villain through this transition, as well as the eponymous antihero, could have effectively illustrated the psychological toll that Mad Max’s apocalypse took on everyone, which renders the more over-the-top elements of the sequels more believable.

What Humungus’ Backstory REALLY Means

 

Of course, the missing backstory also ties into the recurring themes of the Mad Max series. Much like Immortan Joe used his military experience to set up a horrifically cruel and unfair future society, making Goose into the psychotic Lord Humungus served as a reminder that no one is infallible in the face of societal breakdown. Even those in charge of maintaining social order (former cops like Max and Goose) may go one of two ways, with some becoming despots and others retaining their moral code like the title character. If this backstory had been reinstated, then the Mad Max franchise would argue even more clearly that a badge doesn’t make someone more likely to maintain their morality at the end of the world. This is a point that the series has since reinforced with Immortan Joe’s Fury Road backstory, but could have been far more pointed and poignant if it came from Max’s former partner.

How This Can Affect Future Mad Max Movies

 

The question of how Lord Humungus’ backstory could affect the Mad Max series going forward is also something of a mystery, as Miller’s plans for the series are shrouded in secrecy. Certainly, there are elements of The Road Warrior’s villains that the Mad Max franchise should be in no rush to revisit or attempt to reuse, specifically the somewhat offensive portrayal of outdated S+M stereotypes among Lord Humungus’ followers. However, the idea of abused power shaping societies of the future after the end of the world could easily be addressed again in the upcoming Furiosa prequel, which might finally explain just how the unseen apocalypse occurred in the Mad Max universe. This would mean viewers may finally see some of the social breakdown represented in Goose’s transformation. More promising, however, is the confirmation that the upcoming fifth film The Wasteland will be set before the action of Fury Road, meaning Tom Hardy’s next Mad Max outing may be the movie to address the unseen time between Mad Max and The Road Warrior (once it finally commences production, that is).

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