Director: George Miller
Cast: Mel Gibson, Tina Turner, Helen Buday, Angry Anderson, Angelo Rossitto, Robert Grubb
Plot: Looking for his stolen supplies, Max (Gibson) heads to a nearby city, Bartertown, and makes a dangerous enemy.
Beyond Thunderdome is a surprisingly different creature from the first two Mad Max movies. While the less said about the original the better, the second Mad Max seemed to finally find some sort of formula. It feels strange that the following movie, other than a destructive finale car chase, never embraces the charm that makes the second movie so loved. Saying that, it does distance Thunderdome from the other entries to the franchise, which makes it feel more like a movie in its own right rather than a copy of the second. If Mad Max does try and become a long-running franchise, which it does have the power to do, this style will give it the variety and strength it needs to do so.
What I really liked about the third movie was how it took a few moments to pause and actually build a culture around this apocalyptic tribes. In the first two, there wasn’t so much a culture, as a general weirdness about the characters. The bad guys were monstrous and random in their desires, inflicting chaos for the sake of inflicting chaos. The good guys in the second were pretty much narrative devices rather than anyone with memorable qualities. Here, we get not one, but two, interesting post-apocalyptic groups and each one is well developed and fun to dissect. The first is Bartertown, a city created by Tina Turner’s feisty Aunty Entity, a woman who came from nothing but took advantage of the rebooting of the universe to build something that resembles a civilisation. Bartertown is a place designed for passer-bys to enter and trade their goods. It is fuelled by methane, farmed from an underground network of pigs. There is an interesting power battle between Aunty Entity, the closest thing the town has to a government, and Master, the engineer of the methane, who can turn the city’s power off and hold it to ransom whenever he desires. It creates an unexpected Marxist debate about our culture and how the workers hold more power than the people ‘in charge’. It creates a fun balance between the two characters, as they see-saw between villain or hero, depending on who needs Max at the current moment. Outside of Bartertown, there is a tribe of children that have built a religion around a distress call and a plane wreckage they stumbled across and built their town around. While there is something interesting and ultimately tragic about the frailties of religion here, these scenes are played with in a tongue-in-cheek way, as the tribe talks Max through their vision of the cities (tomorrowlands with highscrapers), and believe a photograph of a pilot is a God. There is a bonus chuckle earned when they believe that their God’s wife is a dirty picture carried around by one of the crew of the fallen plane. As a result, the supporting cast are more interesting than they have ever been in a Mad Max movie and for all of this film’s flaws, this is the saving grace that makes it one of the better movies in the series.
Thunderdome’s biggest problem is that it peaks far too early in an excellent battle in the Thunderdome. Seeing as the entire movie is named after this scene, it seems a little disorientating when it is over and done with, and the movie abandons the set-piece completely. The Thunderdome is essentially a gladiator arena where all disputes are taken care of to avoid further resentment, which Entity believes is the main cause of wars. The catch is that to fully nip the anger in the bud, only one is allowed to walk away. In order to usurp power from Master, Aunty Entity hires Mad Max to take out his muscular henchman, Blaster, in the arena, something never done before. The following fight becomes something we want to see more often from Sci-Fi: imagination. As the fighters are strapped to harnesses, allowing the battle the freedom to be choreographed from all sides, it is truly thrilling with a neat little twist at the end of it to boot. While the rest of the movie is good in its own way, this scene steals the ‘thunder’. Even the car chase at the end doesn’t really cut it, especially with an odd ending that doesn’t quite ring true. Then again, in a world populated by crazy madmen, little does.
Final Verdict: Thunderdome gets a bad rap, but it is far more than the first two films intelligent in places. Shame the action is sometimes sacrificed.