Mad Max was released in 1979 (1980 in North America) and since then has spawned three sequels, multiple comics, and has influenced most, if not all, desert-set post-apocalyptic action-thrillers. So when a film in that genre is released, it is not much of a surprise that it echoes aspects of that popular Australian franchise. The question then is, can the new movie overcome that to still stand as original and engaging on its own terms?
“…shoot first, survive however you can lawlessness.”
In the case of Scorched Earth, the answer is yes, mostly! Set years after the world has been reduced to barren wastelands, the few pockets of civilization left are terrorized by roving gangs of bandits, with the worst being Jackson (Ryan Robbins) and his men. Merciless bounty hunter Gage (Gina Carano) hatches a plan to infiltrate the gang and take them down. To do this, she disguises herself as her latest kill, Chavo (Luvia Petersen), whom only she and Doc (John Hannah) know to be dead.
Peter Howitt has had a long career in Hollywood, as an actor, writer, and director, which is his job here. He orchestrates several exciting action scenes, which keep the movie chugging along at a steady pace. The standout here is the opening shootout between Chavo and Gage, as the editing splits between the two with each bullet and bit of dialogue. It is a fun introduction to both the badassness of Gage and the rough and tumble world. This world has a real, lived-in feel to it, allowing the audience to easily buy into the harsh lives of the people that inhabit it. It is true that the costumes and vehicles have a clear Mad Max-vibe, they do look cool and suit the shoot first, survive however you can lawlessness that is presented.
“…the few pockets of civilization left are terrorized by roving gangs of bandits.”
While the movie does start off with a bang, literally, with the Chavo/ Gage shootout, it then slows down immensely for a good twenty minutes. That time is clunky, exposition-heavy dialogue, that only sometimes work. Setting up the way the government, such as it is, still functions, how bounty hunting works, and the most dangerous places to live are essential for the audience, but the way it is presented here is not entirely smooth. Once all that is out of the way, things start to pick up considerably, and when the characters are just idly chatting among themselves, the dialogue is sharp and interesting.
Carano continually proves herself an exciting and formidable screen presence with each new movie she stars in. Scorched Earth, is no exception, as she commands the screen with ease, and handles the action beautifully. John Hannah is almost unrecognizable under a grizzled five o’clock shadow and being more serious than expected. Not to imply he is bad, as he is quite effective in the action-heavy moments and brings a heart to the movie that invests the viewer from his first scene. Stephanie Bennett is Melena, a woman forced into service by Jackson, and she is electric. She portrays the character’s conflicted and scared nature very well.
“…several exciting action scenes.”
As the villainous Jackson, Ryan Robbins is only okay. It is clear he is having fun throughout, but he never comes across as intimidating as the story would have you believe. His monologue about his fallen idol, the military leader he modeled himself off of, doesn’t have the creepy, megalomaniacal edge it requires to make that sequence work. Instead, he sounds like a history buff reporting on his favorite subject, a little too eager, a little too happy. Most of his underlings fare better, especially Patrick Sabongui as yes-man Womack and Nathan Mitchell as the lecherous Zee.
Scorched Earth won’t win any points for originality, but when it works, it is tremendous fun. Bolstered by a strong lead performance from Carano, great action set pieces, and impressive world-building, this is one action-thriller that delivers on both of those fronts.
Scorched Earth (2018) Directed by Peter Howitt. Written by Kevin Leeson, Bobby Mort. Starring Gina Carano, John Hannah, Stephanie Bennett, Ryan Robbins, Patrick Sabongui.