‘Never work with animals and children’, the old saying goes. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome chooses not to heed this advice, and is plentiful in both. This is just one of the reasons why I find this to be the worst film of the trilogy. Yep, for some reason (probably commercial), it was decided that Mad Max needed a third instalment. Once again, my expectations were completely subverted, and not in a good way.
I knew from twenty seconds in that things were going wrong: who do I see next to Mel Gibson in the opening credits? Why, none other than Tina Turner, simply the worst possible choice. Actually, that’s a little harsh, she isn’t too bad, but her accent seems rather out of place in post-apocalyptic Australia.
Just as The Road Warrior was totally removed from Mad Max, Beyond Thunderdome is absolutely nothing like the first two films. While The Road Warrior seemed like a western, Beyond Thunderdome moves into Conan the Barbarian territory. Civilisation has reverted to sometime within the first millennium, although with some of the technology has been left over from the 80s. Just how many ‘years in the future’ this is meant to be, I have no idea.
Max doesn’t drive a car anymore. He instead rides a cart driven by camels, although this cart is stolen in the first five minutes. He walks to Bartertown, run by Tina Turner, who explains that the entire town runs on methane extracted from pig faeces. In true Mad Max style, Max picks a fight, which turns into a showdown in the legendary Thunderdome. This is like a small colosseum, except dome shaped, where the spectators can crawl up the side and view the fight from any angle. On top of this, Max and his opponent are both strapped to rubber harnesses that help them fly through the air and pick up weapons from the ceiling of the arena. I suppose it is quite an original idea, and the fight certainly isn’t boring, but Gibson doesn’t have that much grace when flying through the air, and it can seem a little cringeworthy at times.
After being punished for breaking the law of ‘two men enter, one man leaves’, Max is plonked on a horse that is made to wander into the desert. Fortunately for Max, he stumbles upon a lost tribe made up chiefly of Key-Stage-Two-ers. All the stops have been pulled to make this the quirkiest bunch of kids you’ve ever seen. Their lexicon is an altered form of English, using the word ‘member’ to mean ‘remember’, ‘Tomora-mora-land’ to mean ‘utopia’ etc. They believe that Max is in fact a certain Captain Walker, and explain to him the story of their people. However, Max lets them down rather abruptly. This is followed by a scene where the kids bring Max to see a jet plane buried in the sand. There’s a perfect moment where Mel Gibson is simply shown walking away, as if to say ‘Fuck it, this film is too silly!’
Until now, there haven’t been any chase scenes, surely the best thing about the Mad Max films. Instead, Miller wants us to take this world of primal kids, Tina Turner and pig shit seriously. Moreover, this film is a full quarter of an hour longer than the first two. I could feel my patience being sapped away whilst watching this film. Fortunately, the movie does climax in another pretty awesome chase scene, with bizarre vehicles aplenty. It’s not quite as good as the final scene in The Road Warrior but it’ll do.
Strangely enough, while I believe this is the worst film for betraying the first two Mad Max features, many other critics see differently to me. Roger Ebert, for example, believes this is the best film of the bunch saying ‘The third movie in a series isn’t supposed to create a world more complex, more visionary and more entertaining than the first two.’ This made me consider that perhaps judging this film based on the first two might not be the right way to think about it. As a series, Mad Max is wholly inconsistent and after watching nearly five hours of film, I still cannot figure out the character of Max himself. I didn’t like this film because I simply did not want to embrace a world with an 80s popstar as a town leader and a tribe of prepubescent warriors. On the other hand, if you go into this movie open-minded, like Ebert, there’s a chance that you might actually enjoy the quirky future that Miller presents.