It is 20 years after a devastating nuclear war between the Pan-American Confederacy and the Euracs, an alliance of European, African and Asian forces. Massive contamination from radiation has largely sterilised humanity; no new human beings have been born for 20 years. The Euracs have occupied Noo Yoik and are scouring it for survivors, on whom they conduct intensely painful and invasive medical tests in the hope of finding anyone capable of producing children.
Meanwhile, the defeated Pan-American Confederacy has regrouped in Alaska (or an amusingly poor model thereof), where their leaders have discovered through old census records the existence of a woman in New York who could viably become pregnant. (How records largely compiled before the downfall of civilisation that caused mass sterilisation can indicate this is, shall we say, one of several plot points which are glossed over due to not making a lick of sense. (It actually makes sense in the end, but it seems like Parsifal is caused an awful lot of problems by the fact that the Confederacy leaders don’t bother giving full details to him.)
Parsifal (Michael Sopkiw), a badass road warrior who has a troubled history with the Confederation, is recruited by them to go on a mission into Eurac-occupied New York to retrieve the woman in question, so her eggs can be surgically harvested and used to make a viable new population on a colony mission to Alpha Centauri. Along the way he’ll have to tangle not only with various local ragamuffins and Eurac soldiers, but also the animalistic gang led by Big Ape (George Eastman), who dress in old-timey costumes and for some reason include a bunch of Neanderthal-types and full-blown Planet of the Apes-esque talking apes.
So, obviously by far the biggest problem with 2019: After the Fall of New York is how rapey a lot of the plot is. Almost all the emphasis on the fertility problem is directly against women, with numerous characters – the Euracs, the Confederacy, and Big Ape himself – only interested in finding women to force themselves on personally or institutionally. It’s all about the eggs and the wombs (biological essentialism being the assumed gender ideology of the day), and admittedly those are some incredibly important components of the puzzle, but there’s almost no discussion of there being any issue with finding viable sperm.
That’s not all the baggage here. The plot point about the Euracs blending all races together a) doesn’t really hang true (they all look just as Mediterranean as the Pan-Americans and b) is really uncomfortably close to “Commies are behind race mixing” conspiracy theories (or, for that matter, the “Dominators are behind race mixing” angle in The Iron Dream).
Despite all this there’s something entertainingly bonkers about the whole thing. It’s basically a Mad Max/Escape From New York mashup, but director Sergio Martino and his crew execute it much more effectively than other Italian entries in this subgenre – you have more varied and interesting scenery than Warriors of the Wasteland, better costumes and action than Warrior of the Lost World, and a much more convincing ruined New York than Escape 2000. Admittedly, you’re dealing with a low bar here – those are two movies which got the much-deserved Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment and one movie that MST3K probably decided not to touch due to the extended sequence of George Eastman ritualistically raping a dude for the enjoyment of his biker gang. But really, the distance between this and those is really appreciable.
The movie is still bad, mind, but it’s bad in a weirdly competent way. The Euracs’ uniforms are fun, the model work is deeply unconvincing but endearingly detailed despite it, the costumes are hilariously over the top and the action is delightfully silly. A dwarf who calls himself “Shorty” (Louis Ecclesia) kills himself by running really hard at some trash, Parsifal has to drive a car with various improvised armour strapped to it over an obstacle course of tiny glowy pyramids, the Euracs use laser crossbows and Big Ape is able to throw his scimitar in such a way as to decapitate dozens of goons in one fell swoop. Parsifal’s love interest (not the One Surviving Fertile Woman, in an interesting departure from the way this sort of nonsense usually goes), dies pointlessly when Parsifal starts an entirely needless fight with one of his companions for being a cyborg, despite the fact that this doesn’t really have any bearing on anything.
You’re talking an attempt at Road Warrior-level spectacle with Blake’s 7-quality budgets and special effects, and goodness me they come far closer to pulling it off than you’d expect given those constraints. The movie bounces forcefully between actually quite reasonably-accomplished scenes and hilarious nonsense so much that it ends up resembling a collaboration between George Miller and Garth Marenghi, and if that sounds remotely appealing to you then you’ll probably enjoy about two thirds of it and then spend the remaining third cringing at some of the misogyny involved.