Wednesday, October 5, 2016

MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME (1985) - ***½


Rated PG-13
Running time: 107 min.
Release date: July 10, 1985



Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is the third film in the post-apocalyptic series that began with Mad Max in 1979 and continued in 1981 with Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. The director of both films, George Miller, teams with George Ogilvie to bring the third installment to the big screen. Miller asked for Ogilvie's assistance mainly due to the death of Miller's friend and the film's producer, Byron Kennedy. Miller's imprint, however, is still visible on-screen as Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is a solid entry in the series, if not as cohesive and narratively strong as the previous two films.

Max (Mel Gibson) is crossing the desert in his camel-driven wagon when he is ambushed by a plane being flown by Jedediah (Bruce Spence) and his young son. Spence played the Gyro Captain in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior but this is a different character altogether, albeit with very similar traits. Jedediah steals Max's camels, vehicle and most of his supplies in the attack, leaving Max in the desert attempting to track him. This leads Max to a most interesting place called Bartertown. Bartertown is smack in the middle of the desert and is a place where people go to trade. After some coercion, Max is brought to meet the ruler of Bartertown, Aunty Entity, who is played by Tina Turner, in a surprisingly effective performance. Bartertown has a power struggle occurring between Aunty Entity and Master, a dwarf who oversees the production of the methane gas that provides Bartertown with its energy, which in turn comes from pig feces. Aunty wants Max to solve her problem, so to speak, by settling matters in Thunderdome, a steel cage laden with various weapons. Two men enter, one man leaves chant the folks of Bartertown. Master is one-half of the being known as Master-Blaster, with the Blaster half introduced as a hulking figure in an iron mask. In Thunderdome, Max gets the best of Blaster but refuses to end his life. This goes against the law of the land, and Max is banished into the desert to die. He is soon discovered by a band of orphaned children, who have been waiting for their savior, known as Capt. Walker, to return and bring them home. This all leads to Max and company returning to Bartertown and another expertly filmed desert chase scene from Miller.

There is plenty to enjoy about this film, so let's start at the top of the list. Bartertown itself is a creative vision of a civilization trying to piece itself back together after the apocalypse. It's put together through various pieces of scrap as people mill around in neo-post punk costumes. Underneath Bartertown is the methane refinery which, although not pretty to look at, is a thoroughly original idea. The Thunderdome battle scene is an entertaining and unique way to stage a fight. The combatants are strapped into harnesses and they can sling themselves up and down, left and right, while the audience climbs the cage on the outside to get the best seat in the house. There is definitely a game show-type feel to the proceedings as the emcee hypes up the fight and then the subsequent spinning of the wheel to determine Max's fate after the cage fight. Bringing originality like this to the story will always make things interesting. Of course, what would a Mad Max movie be without a thrilling chase scene? Granted, the chase scene in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is not as extended as the one in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior but it is still expertly choreographed and filmed. You know where all the participants are and the action is easy to follow. 

The middle portion of the film is where things slow down and get bogged down in silliness. Max meets a tribe of children who have been orphaned after a plane crash during the apocalypse. The children believe Max to be their Captain Walker, who will fly them all back to civilization. A scene where the female leader of the tribe, Savannah (Helen Buday), tells their story to Max is bordering on movie-killing silly as the children act out sound effects in unison. The story takes us back to Bartertown in a logical manner, but not before more light-hearted moments in the refinery. The tone for this portion of the film is the opposite of the entire series up to this point, as Miller trades in despair and savagery for giggles. Thankfully, we eventually get back to what Max does best: drive real fast while fighting bad guys for his very life.

With an original, entertaining and interesting opening leading into a preachy, dull and somewhat silly middle portion, the film is pulled back from the mouth of death by the thrilling conclusion. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is certainly not the best of the series, but it does stand on its own as a solid action film.

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