And it looks like we're at the end of my voyage through the original Mad Max trilogy. For those just joining us, after coming out of the theatre for Mad Max: Fury Road, I realized that I'd never seen any of the original Mad Max movies, and thus it's a rather noticeable gap in my personal film history. Luckily, I just reactivated my Shomi account, and they're all on there. And we get to the end of the Mel Gibson Max Max trilogy with Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.
Why is it that the most hated film in the franchise is usually the one that tries to ditch the formula and do something different? Beyond Thunderdome is regarded as the lesser of the Mad Max films, and I'm wondering how much of that has to do with the fact that the amazing car chases that had become the franchise hallmark are largely absent. We get one at the film's climax, and that's pretty much it. Instead, we get a broader exploration of this post-apocalyptic society and how some are attempting to rebuild.
Once complaint about this one is that it went Hollywood. That's easy to see. This was the first Mad Max that actually had backing from a major Hollywood studio, and wasn't an indie film out of Australia. As such, everything just looks much more slick. When I went through the Rocky franchise, I remarked how it was neat to see its evolution from gritty 1970s drama to polished 1980s blockbusters. That's the transition we get here. While still a gritty vision of the future, Beyond Thunderdome is not as gritty. The way things are shot, in design sensibilities...everything's just a little cleaner. And the music. Dear God, it's just not Hollywood in the 1980s unless there's a saxaphone on the soundtrack.
Some say the film's different feel also has a lot to do with director George Miller. Miller's friend and partner Byron Kennedy, who produced the first two films, passed away before filming could began. Miller admits he was still in mourning during production and that his heart wasn't quite in it. That being said, the film did get pretty good reviews, and Miller thinks the film turned out pretty good in retrospect.
So Max is wandering through the desert, when he has all his belongings stolen from him. He continues wandering, and soon makes it to the town of Bartertown, where the whole society is built on bartering. While searching the town for his stolen goods, Max encounters the administrator, Auntie Entity, who needs Max's help. Bartertown actually has electricity, thanks to the duo of Master Blaster processing methane into an energy source. But, Master Blaster occasionally likes to flex his muscle by cutting power to the town. Auntie Entity wants Max to assassinate Master Blaster in the Thunderdome, this making her rule over Bartertown absolute.
Oh, and Master Blaster is actually two people. Blaster is the big guy and muscle. Master is a little guy and the brains who rides around on Blaster's back.
Gotta admit, the Thunderdome fight is pretty dang cool. They're attached to the walls with bungee cords and flying around, and grabbing weapons off the walls. It's pretty creative.
Max gets the upper hand, and knocks off Blaster's helmet. We see now that Blaster actually has a mental disability, and Max shows mercy. This infuriates Auntie Entity, and for breaking the deal, Max is sent into exile in the desert.
Yeah...all this stuff actually happens pretty early in the movie. I mean, it's called Beyond Thunderdome, so it makes sense that most of the movie takes place, well...after Thunderdome.
The bulk of the movie has Max being taken in by a band of lost children, living in an oasis. They're the survivors of an evacuation plane that went down when World War III broke out. Their parents eventually left for help, but never returned. The children believe Max to be Captain Walker, the pilot of the plane and the one who led the expedition for help. The children have elevated Captain Walker to a mythic status, and think that Max/Captain Walker has finally returned to lead them to a promised land. But with the only civilization near them being Bartertown, Max has to fight to keep the kids safe.
On Facebook, a friend of mine described Mad Max as being "a post-apocalyptic Littlest Hobo," and the episodic nature of Beyond Thunderdome really lends itself to that. Max helps out a settlement, then moves on. Down the road, that's where he'll always be. Max remains a man of few words, just doing the job, and moving on.
And Tina Turner as Auntie Entity. She hasn't done much acting. I'm pretty sure this is her only starring role. She does an admirable job, bringing just the right amount of menace to this tyrannical leader. Of course, her more memorable performance in the film is her song We Don't Need Another Hero, which was the theme song for this film.
At the end of the day, you have to applaud the franchise for trying something a little different. Yeah, it does mean it gets a little slower-paced at times, but there's still a pretty good film in there. I think Beyond Thunderdome is a worthy addition to the franchise.