With Mad Max: Fury Road finally out today (as soon as I'm done writing this I'm off to go see it) I wanted to complete my retrospective with a look at the until-now final installment in the series: Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. While still fun, this film lacks the same precise focus as the other two and suffers a little on the side of plotting. But I will say that if you have been afraid to get into these movies, this one is probably the most accessible (or at least, least edgy) while still delivering plenty of George Miller lunacy to keep you around.
Max turns up in a place called Bartertown in order to reclaim his stolen camel rig. To do so, he strikes a deal with Auntie Entity (Tina Turner) to overthrow the town's energy baron Master Blaster. He also eventually meets up with some Lord of the Flies-style lost children.
I said the film lacked the same kind of focus the other two have, and that comes from the side plot involving the children. The film really doesn't need it. While Max is in Bartertown the movie clips along nicely, giving us a glimpse at the attempt at recivilization. There are the same freakshow side characters as well as the marginally-exploitative duo of Master Blaster. Bruce Spence's pilot even returns, though probably not as the same character (kind of like Lee Van Cleef's character(s) in For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.) I think if the movie stayed in Bartertown the whole time it would have been stronger.
But it doesn't. Max winds up halfway through the movie in the midst of a society of lost children who think he will lead them back to the world. This side plot isn't a bad story in itself; it is just so unrelated to the main plot that it really detracts from where the movie is going. If I had to include it in the movie, I would have put it first, then gone on the trip to Bartertown. As it stands, when Max and some of the children end up returning to Bartertown, the tone has lightened so much that there is no real threat there anymore. If he meets the children before going to Bartertown, then the stakes are raised for him as a hero and there is at least a sense of menace for us as an audience.
By the end, though, the movie has all of its strings picked up again. There is a brilliant chase through the desert with the same level of ridiculous stuntwork we've come to expect. And it ends harmoniously with the other two films. Mad Max was always the man in the desert looking for purpose, and I guess that is why we like these movies. They capture the absurdity of our lives in an oblique enough way to not be confrontational, but they resonate because we have all been wanderers in the desert looking for purpose at one point or another.
Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome features Mel Gibson, Tina Turner, Bruce Spence, Angelo Rossitto and Helen Buday, and is rated PG-13 for violent stuff.
Written by Terry Hayes and George Miller
Directed by George Miller and George Ogilvie
by Chase Harrison