By 1985, Mel Gibson was on the verge of big things in Hollywood. But, before his star was shining too bright, he returned to the role that made him famous one more time. Director George Miller returned with big hopes and dreams for Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Unfortunately, a lot of the things that made the first two apocalyptic films great would get lost along the way. Hollywood would have too much say in the making of this film, the edginess and extreme violence seen in Mad Max (1979) and Mad Max 2 (1981) was gone. A tamer Max was now awaiting us.
The movie is set some 20 years after Mad Max (1979) and 15 after Mad Max 2 (1981). Max is roaming the desert wasteland in a camel-driven wagon. After it is stolen by a pilot named Jedidah (Bruce Spence, in a very confusing move, he is not reprising his role from Mad Max 2), he follows the trail to Bartertown. Humanity is struggling to survive in this town where electricity is fueled by pig feces and everything is controlled by Aunty Entity (a horribly miscast Tina Turner).
The first 45 minutes of the movie are actually entertaining, if not watered down compared to the first two films, along with some unwanted humoristic elements. Max is hired by Aunty to confront Master Blaster in an effort to gain control of the underworld that keeps Bartertown running. Master is a small man with big dreams who keeps his control through the muscular Blaster, sitting on his shoulders, giving orders to everyone. This conflict culminates in a battle inside Thunderdome, a cage where Blaster and Max are attached to bungee cords and weapons like chainsaws are hanging from the side. As the crowd chants “two men enter, one man leaves”, Max knows his only hope is to use a whistle as Blaster is highly susceptible to high pitched noises. Max narrowly defeats Blaster only to remove his helmet and reveal that he is nothing more than a disabled child. Refusing to kill him, he is exiled into the desert. Sadly, this is where the movie gets off course.
We are dealt a highly unbelievable plot of children living in a desert oasis in hopes that a Captain Walker, who they believe Max is, will take them to civilization, or “tomorrow-morrow land”. Max decides they are better off staying in the oasis but a group of the children leave for Bartertown in search of Master to help repair a plane. Max is forced to take another group with him to Bartertown to get them back.
The end is somewhat saved by a big chase between Aunty Entity’s men and Max. It doesn’t quite live up to the mayhem of the first two films and plays off the violence in a more comedic manner, mostly because of the PG-13 rating, compared to the R rating of the first two films. But the climactic battle manages to salvage a movie that got way off track with the oasis children sub-plot. Using the pilot and his plane, the children and Master are saved but once again, Max is left behind in the desert. The children make it to the now destroyed cities in hope of restoring what has been lost and finding others out there in the wasteland.
Byron Kennedy, producer of the first two films, was killed in a helicopter crash in 1983. Some believe his absence might be partially to blame for the different feel in this movie. Criticism is split as most fans enjoy the Bartertown sequences but despise the oasis children. For me, the movie just seems cartoonish at times in contrast to the gritty world they had created in the first two films. Moving from an R rating to PG-13 just compounded that issue. The thunderdome sequence is fun but I always felt it would have more horrific if seen in one of the first two movies. This movie was the least successful of the trilogy in Australia but was a big enough hit in the United States to warrant a sequel. However, Mel Gibson went on to commercially bigger things, such as the Lethal Weapon franchise, and a sequel never materialized. However, a fourth film has been long discussed and finally seems to be coming true.
Mad Max: Fury Road is currently being filmed for a May 2015 release. Max is now played by Tom Hardy (Bane from The Dark Knight Rises) with a new rival named Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron (Prometheus). The movie will be set between Mad Max and Mad Max 2, so we can except to see a more human Max. While we will probably see more CGI effects, one can except it will have a harder edge similar to the first two films. Director George Miller is back but considering his last three films had to do with penguins and pigs, I’ll reserve comments until I see the movie. And rumor has it, we might even get to see Mel Gibson in a cameo.
Check out the trailer for Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and enjoy the Blu-ray print. It is worth a watch, just keep in mind that it does get off track for a while and you might have to muddle your way through a Tina Turner song or two. None the less, this one is a guilty pleasure for me as it was the only one of the trilogy I saw in a theater. Back in 1985, I went with my sister who I vividly remember was much less impressed than I was. I must admit, some of the nostalgia is wearing off over time. Judge for yourself and have fun!