Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome stars Mel Gibson for his third go-round as the title hero who takes on the barbarians of the post-nuclear future- and this time becomes the savior of a tribe of lost children. Music superstar Tina Turner steals what’s left of the screen as Aunty Entity, a power-mad dominatrix determined to use Max to tighten her stranglehold on Bartertown.
eyelights: the gorgeous if desolate scenery. the elaborate sets. the fancy vehicles. Tina Turner.
eyesores: the last two-thirds of the picture.
“You know the law: Two men enter, one man leaves.”
When ‘Mad Max‘ became an international sensation, breaking profit records, it naturally lead to ‘Mad Max 2‘. When ‘Mad Max 2’ was also a massive box office hit, it’s only natural that a ‘Mad Max 3’ would be under consideration.
But did you know that ‘Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome’ wasn’t originally intended to be a Mad Max picture? In fact, the original idea was for a ‘Lord of the Flies’-type scenario with an adult finding a society built and led by children.
It’s only when the idea was put to George Miller that this adult should be Max that the film morphed into another Mad Max adventure.
This partly explains this lavish but otherwise unexciting production: armed with more gold than he could eat (thanks to big studio financing), Miller put together a sprawling post-apocalyptic epic with massive sets and set pieces.
But it’s dreadfully dull. And derivative.
Another problem may have been that Miller’s heart wasn’t really into it after the death of his friend and producer Byron Kennedy a year prior. He decided to only direct the action sequences, leaving the rest to George Ogilvie.
Invariably, the loss of a close collaborator hurts, but there were others. Given that this picture had American money behind it, some changes were made. For one, Brian May was replaced by Maurice Jarre. And that’s just the obvious ones.
In essence, what I’m saying is that I’d like to give George Miller the benefit of the doubt. He has consistently written, directed or produced quality motion pictures in his career thus far, and this seems to be the lone misfire. It happens.
Having said this, it’s not to say that ‘Mad Max Beyond Thunderbore’ is irredeemable; it has its moments.
But first, here’s our story, in brief:
Max is riding about the countryside in a wagon that’s pulled by camels. Unfortunately, for him, an airbourne marauder and his son hijack his wagon and go off to pawn his belongings in Bartertown. Max walks through the desert after them.
(On a side-note, the part of the marauder is played by Bruce Spence, who played a similar but different character in ‘Mad Max 2’ – a friend of Max’s. This was confusing because at first I didn’t realize they were attacking him, and then didn’t know why.)
Once in Bartertown, Max is called upon by Aunty, its ruler to help her get rid of Blaster, the brawn behind Master Blaster, the duo that controls the town’s power supply and who taunt her publicly. This leads him to a combat in the Thunderdome.
After refusing to kill Blaster, Max is banished out into the desert with no food or water. But just as his horse dies and he’s about to do the same, a monkey that a friend of his sent arrives with a gourd, prolonging his life a little longer.
He is later found dying in the desert by a teenaged girl who thinks he is Captain Walker, the hero from her kindertribe’s legends. Believing that he has come to save them, she brings him to their oasis where he is nursed back to health.
After a series of exchanges, with Max telling them that there is no civilization left to return to, some of the kids go off looking for what they call Tomorrow-morrow Land. Max chases after them and, through a series of circumstances, return to Bartertown.
There, Max and the kiddies rescue the defenseless Master, who is now being ritually abused by Aunty’s men. This leads them to a final confrontation with her as they try to escape Bartertown and her clutches. Much action and carnage ensues.
So what’s worth seeing in ‘Mad Max Beyond Thunderdump’?
- The deserted landscapes. They simply look phenomenal.
- The sets. Honestly, they made this post-apocalyptic world seem real.
- The vehicles (even if their effectiveness is questionable). If you thought the ones from ‘Mad Max 2’ were cool, check these ones out.
- Tina Turner. Man, she made Aunty into one mean but hot mama jama. And that voice! She could rule my world.
- Max is introduced in the Thunderdome duel as “the man with no name”. It’s a nice nod to one of George Miller’s influences.
- The Thunderdome duel itself. It must have been difficult to choreograph the bungee combat given how unpredictable it got. But it’s pretty cool to watch.
And what made me roll my eyes at ‘Mad Max Beyond Thunderdrone’?
- Max shoots a guy who makes a big show of threatening him with bladed weapons. Indiana Jones had done it only four years prior, in a classic scene that everyone refers to even to this day. It was intended to be humourous, but it felt rote, unoriginal.
- Max is asked to check in his weapons before meeting Aunty. He drops an endless stream of guns on the counter, in a “humourous” scene you’d expect in ‘The Naked Gun‘, not a Mad Max film.
- When Max is sent out to kill Blaster, he infiltrates their methane factory by getting a gig there. But, really, they had an immediate job opening? In that dire economy? And they didn’t check his “references”?
- At the methane factory, Max finds his old vehicle. Talk about a coincidence! Well, it was merely plot convenience (he could disarm it, thereby proving himself useful), because he leaves it there and we never see it again.
- Max is introduced in the Thunderdome duel as “the man with no name”. Nice nod, but it’s too obvious for some of us.
- Max is sent out in the desert where he and his horse are dying. Firstly, why they sent him on a horse given their limited resources is beyond me! Secondly, he’s rescued by a monkey that has been dragging a huge gourd along. Somehow the monkey wasn’t exhausted or dehydrated from carrying it. Suuuure.
- Max finds himself in a small seaside oasis filled with dozens of kids. Who gave birth to all of them? Given how many there are, there would have been quite a few adults to make this litter. And, given how old some of them are, they haven’t been there long… so who left them behind and why? Who taught them to survive?
(Granted, they tell their story at one point, in a contrived sequence tailor-made for audiences, but their language is an adaptation of English combined with an Aussie accent. Even with the subtitles on, I didn’t get all of it. Not that it was necessarily coherent anyway.)
This leads me to the one big question about ‘Mad Max Beyond Thunderdork’: who was the intended audience for this movie? The PG-13 rating, the fact that Mad Max has a monkey sidekick and that he’s surrounded by kids suggests young audiences.
However, the previous two films were successes with adult audiences, having garnered a Restricted rating due to violence and some sexuality. So why would they make a film that turns its back on its previous audiences and successes?
Because, let’s face it, making a Mad Max movie that’s PG-13 is basically a slap in the face of the original fans. That would be like making a Star Wars movie with an accident-prone character whose every moment is a slapsticky mess. Oh… right.
In the end, ‘Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome’ suffers from poor writing and the contrived merging of two great ideas that don’t blend well at all. It’s a wicked-looking picture, but it’s as dull and unoriginal as the others were fresh and exciting.
I’m glad that Miller is finally going beyond ‘Thunderdome’ with ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’; it gives him the chance to finally right the series again. Personally, I’m not 100% sure if I’ll go see it, but one thing’s guaranteed: I will never revisit ‘Thunderdome’.
Date of viewing: February 14, 2015