Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985) / Action-Adventure
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and language
Running Time: 107 min.
Cast: Mel Gibson, Tina Turner, Helen Buday, Bruce Spence, Adam Cockburn, Angelo Rossito, Rod Zuanic, Angry Anderson, Frank Thring, George Spartels, Paul Larsson
Director: George Miller, George Ogilvie
Screenplay: Terry Hayes, George Miller
Review published May 4, 2015
The third in the original Mad Max trilogy, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome represents the most expensive film in the post-apocalyptic series, as well as the least satisfying. It's the first to be funded, at least in part, by a major Hollywood studio (Warner Bros.), and that also means there will be a lot of corporate suits trying to provide input on where they think the series should go to be profitable. While there's a certain admiration one can have for co-writer/co-director George Miller (The Witches of Eastwick, Happy Feet) for trying to defy expectations by taking the series in a direction no one would have expected, he also manages to take it to places few really wanted the franchise to go. In terms of my Blu-ray collection, to satirize one of the famous lines of the script, two Mad Max films still enter my player, and one I leave on the shelf.
In this film, set a few years after the events of The Road Warrior, Max's nomadic travels lead him to Bartertown, which, as the name implies, is the methane-fueled hub where anyone can go to exchange something they have for something they need. The town is overseen by Aunty (Turner, Sgt. Pepper), though it is really run by a dwarf named Master (Rossito), who gets into a scuffle with Max, where the only resolution anyone will abide by is to battle to the death in a caged arena called 'Thunderdome'. Following his ordeal, Max manages to make his way to a desert oasis full of children awaiting the return of adults, and who see Max as a messianic figure foretold to come to them and save them.
Beyond Thunderdome is a decidedly less violent film than its predecessors, going for a PG-13 rating, rather than the original's hard R. No grisly dismemberments, no rapes, and not much true sense of dread for a world gone mad. Instead, the movie plays like a children's fable, mixing elements of Barrie's "Peter Pan" with Golding's "Lord of the Flies", then shoehorning in a Road Warrior-regurgitating climax with marauding vehicles against a train, just to keep the Mad Max purists from claiming a shark had been jumped several times during the writing process. In fact, the film wasn't intended to be a Mad Max film at all, about a group of children waiting for a savior; Miller and co-screenwriter Hayes decided that Max could be that guy, and retooled it to fit.
Tina Turner proves to be a nice addition, though it is a disappointment that the role is relatively skimpy for someone with such a striking on-screen personality. Bruce Spence, the gyro captain from The Road Warrior, reappears, along with a child that looks a great deal like the Feral Kid from the same movie, but, apparently, they're supposed to be different characters here, despite Spence's character also being a pilot. (We've only seen two people who can operate flying machines and they both look exactly the same!) Reportedly, Miller wasn't up to directing anything more than the action sequences after losing his friend Byron Kennedy, a producer for the series, in a helicopter accident while he was scouting locations (the film ends with, "For Byron" before the credits). George Ogilvie came in to shoot the stuff in between, which may have resulted in the movie's lack of cohesive vibe.
Set design, cinematography, and stellar stunt work are the only aspects of this loopy and semi-comedic film I'd consider to be above average. Unfortunately, the overstuffed and barely intelligible story, scant characterizations, and plenty of spotty acting mar the movie. Alas, despite the huge budget, the action sequences don't even come close to matching the thrills of the previous two entries, leaving Beyond Thunderdome dissatisfying to most who might be looking for a continuation of the excitement levels with Miller's previous balls-out, visceral approach. By dressing all of these actors up and giving them no where to go that we care to follow, all but the most die-hard of fans sang a variation of the hit Tina Turner end credits song: "We Don't Need Another Sequel".
-- Followed by Mad Max: Fury Road
©2015 Vince Leo