Movies Retro Review: MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME written by Robert Reineke May 11, 2015 “Two men enter. One man leaves.” The conventional wisdom is that MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME is the least of the Mad Max films. I’m not going to disagree with the conventional wisdom in this case. When you hear tales of Hollywood homogenizing and watering down properties, MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME is Exhibit A. The only thing it’s lacking is a shoe-horned romance. That said, there’s still personality on display, from Mel Gibson and the tendency for memorable character designs throughout the series, the movie is bigger in a lot of ways with much bigger production design, there are some memorable action set pieces, and, to its credit, it tries to craft a story unlike the simple revenge story of MAD MAX or the post-apocalyptic western of THE ROAD WARRIOR. The changes from the previous two entries are evident right off the bat. The two previous entries were low budget, R-rated, Ozploitation films while MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME announces itself as a PG-13 Hollywood vehicle with a big mainstream star in Tina Turner singing over the opening credits. Gone is Bryan May’s bombastic, but memorable, score in favor of something less in your face by Maurice Jarre. George Miller isn’t even the sole credited director as he’s joined by George Ogilvie, and rumor has it George Miller only directed the action scenes, so it already seems to be more of a committee job and has a less distinct voice. That said, the opening of the movie belays those fears to a major extent. It opens years after THE ROAD WARRIOR with an aging Max having his wagon and train of camels stolen by a pilot (apparently a new character played confusingly by Bruce Spence) and his son. Max tracks the stolen wagon to the city of Bartertown run by Aunty Entity (Tina Turner). She and Max cut a deal, Max will deal with the thorn in her side, the dwarf engineer Master (Angelo Rossitto) who controls the methane supply, created by pig manure, which powers the city, by taking out Master’s muscle Blaster (Paul Larsson) in the gladiatorial arena known as Thunderdome where disputes are settled. The initial plotting and world building is a good bit of fun. We’ve seen the old world crumble and descend into chaos in the course of the series, and now we see it start to rebuild in a more primitive form. The idea that there are new outposts of civilization gives MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME an identity like a Roman gladiator / politics story. Any fan of GAME OF THRONES or I, CLAUDIUS should be able to tell you of the fun of political machinations in that type of environment and it opens up the series to new ideas. Is there a religious clan out in the wastelands on a potential crusade? Rival kingdoms vying for power? An amazon sect out there? Slave traders? Pirates raiding caravans? MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME makes all of those ideas plausible. And the massively raised budget gives this world building a visual identity. There’s probably too much recycling of costume ideas from THE ROAD WARRIOR, there’s no reason that the guards of Bartertown should largely resemble Lord Humongous’s warriors of the wasteland, but the scope of the Bartertown set and the large number of extras really gives the film visual life. Even the underworld of Bartertown is a lively, expansive place. It’s worth pondering if George Miller’s interest in BABE had its roots here with all of the pigs in evidence. That said, the political maneuvering is pretty basic and there’s no real stakes in the outcome of the conflict between Aunty Entity and Master Blaster. Why should the audience care who comes out on top is never answered. It’s a power struggle without a real philosophical underpinning. Tina Turner is fine and cuts a memorable figure, but Aunty Entity has no interesting speeches nor an interesting point of view. Sure, Aunty Entity sounds like a relative of Granny Goodness, and the combo Master Blaster is exactly something that Jack Kirby could dream up, but it’s not a substitute for motivations. And the stake of “power” is awfully nebulous in the relative chaos of Bartertown. Even though the opening of MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME has some issues, it needs to be noted that it all pays off in a wonderful setpiece as Max squares off against Blaster in the Thunderdome. Complete with smarmy ring announcer laying out the rules, there are no rules, and the basic conceit. There’s also a cute aside as Max is literally introduced as “The Man With No Name”. The result is gladiatorial combat involving spears, hammers, a chain saw, wall spikes, a whistle, and the two combatants, basically attached to bungee cords, slingshotting themselves through a 3D arena in a wonderful display of imagination. It’s one of the best action setpieces of the 1980s and almost single-handedly justifies the existence of the film. The fallout finds Max changing sympathies as he discovers that Blaster is more of a child than a monster and that Master is capable of compassion, unlike Aunty. Those changed sympathies don’t work out for Max as he’s soon forcibly exiled into the vast desert without water to die. At this point, MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME has basically setup a scenario similar to the forthcoming GLADIATOR, we want to see how Max gets out of this cliffhanger, return to Bartertown, and exact his revenge against the powers that be. Instead, you can sense the studio mandates stepping in, as Max inexplicably becomes entwined with a tribe of lost children ala PETER PAN. On paper, the children’s tribe makes some sense. Their innocence and idealism strikes a contrast to the corruption and hypocrisy of Bartertown and you get to see two separate visions for the future of civilization, finally giving the film some stakes. They mistake Max for a messianic savior and in many ways Max tries to live up to their image. Max was originally set off by the death of his child, after all. In the final film though, they come across as eccentric caricatures without strongly defined personalities. Their worldview is a exaggerated series of misunderstandings of the artifacts of a now disappeared civilization. Some of that is cute, using a rectangular frame as a substitute for a television so that everyone must pay attention to the speaker, but most of it is just odd for the sake of being odd. It’s meant to be charming, but more often than not it comes off as annoying. It doesn’t help that as engaging as Mel Gibson is in the film, he has no one to play off of that’s capable of holding the screen with him. It also decisively strips the film of much of its physical stakes. One of the anonymous children does die in the film, but you can’t avoid the sense that nothing really bad is going to happen to the vast majority of the children, no matter what peril they’re in. It’s not the PG-13 rating that really saps the sense of danger from the film, as much as its a bunch of children engaging in derring do without any harm befalling them. There’s a sense in MAD MAX and THE ROAD WARRIOR that no one is safe, that’s not true here. It’s especially damaging when circumstances lead Max and a group of children back to Bartertown where Max hatches a plan to free Master from his new imprisonment, with the idea that the engineering prowess of Master will help the children reestablish some civilization, and the result is a lot of action in the style of PETER PAN or THE GOONIES with children swinging on ropes, attacking trained guards, and basically turning the whole exercise into typical 1980s action. The film maintains a profane edge, there’s plenty of manure thrown around and at least one f-bomb, but it’s the type of action you expect out of Amblin. That said, the film ends with a final chase into the wasteland, this one with a train engine and Aunty Entity’s guards in vehicular chase, and while it may not live up the finale of THE ROAD WARRIOR, it’s quite well down and fun with characters leaping to and from the train to pursuing vehicles, and plenty of impressive practical stunts and gags. Even if the film pulls its punches, the stunt crew is still giving its all. And George Miller knows how to direct an action sequence and show character. It’s telling that while the chase is going on, Master changes clothes from a punk warrior to an English gentleman. It’s these small touches that give the film an identity other than corporate product. The clash of tones ultimately is hard to overcome, but MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME manages to be at least memorable with some truly entertaining sequences. It’s a flawed film and certainly the least consistent of the three. It’s the film that’s least assured of its identity. It’s also the film that’s poorest at developing supporting characters. It’s certainly the hardest to recommend. But, it has some really high highs. And, it serves as a capstone of the series and ends in a somewhat satisfying place. Max is still wandering the wastelands, but there’s hope for the future and civilization. Out there, somewhere, there’s potentially a place for Max to go home to. Max can wander the wastelands, having further adventures, but he doesn’t necessarily have to die there. It completes an arc that started with revenge and nihilism to something more hopeful about the future. The MAD MAX trilogy is a unique one as each entry has a completely different flavor. I’d say that only THE ROAD WARRIOR is a completely successful film out of the bunch, but at the very least you don’t get the sense that the series is repeating itself. It’s ambitious as genre fare. It’s eccentric. Mel Gibson is always watchable. And the action is some of the best staged with stunt men giving it their all. The series has had many imitators, the post-apocalyptic punk aesthetic action film is a virtual genre unto itself, as identifiable to the 80s as the slasher film, but nobody has really challenged George Miller’s films for supremacy in the genre. Which brings us to MAD MAX: FURY ROAD where we see if George Miller can top himself. Here’s hoping that the new movie is every bit as crazy, eccentric, and exciting as the movies, however flawed, that have led to it. Retro Review: MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME was last modified: February 21st, 2016 by Robert Reineke Related Mad MaxMad Max Beyond ThunderdomeRetro Review 7 comments 0 Facebook Twitter Google + Pinterest Robert Reineke previous post DC’s LEGENDS OF TOMORROW Coming To The CW! next post Fox Picks Up Vertigo’s LUCIFER For Mid-Season You may also like Open Forum: KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE February 12, 2015 Open Forum: FRANK MILLER’S SIN CITY: A... August 25, 2014 JAWS and the Mostly Forgotten Allure of... June 8, 2015 Open Forum: TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT... June 3, 2016 Open Forum: SAN ANDREAS May 28, 2015 AWARDS SEASON AND THE SUPERHERO: GOLDEN GLOBES... December 10, 2015 Film Review: GRAVITY October 3, 2013 Legendary Relationship Ends June 25, 2013 BIRDMAN Takes Flight in New International Trailer July 31, 2014 Pioneering Spirit Meets Survival Instinct In INTERSTELLAR... May 16, 2014 Dennis Ramirez Good article. I admit there’s a soft spot in my heart for Thunderdome because it’s the first Max movie I saw as a kid. Of course, the Thunderdome bungee fight was my favorite part. Absolutely loved it. I have vague memories of trying to recreate the jumping effect by tying myself to a tree branch with bungee cord and bouncing up and down. Never got it to work. These days I do recognize Thunderdome a flawed film and vastly inferior to the others, but I can’t deny it’s allure. Alot may have gone wrong with it, but at least it managed to capture this little kid’s imagination. stock Thunderdome was a fitting end to the Max trilogy, and even though there was an Ewok quality to the tribe of children, I still enjoyed it. Ok, so it had Tina Turner, who was very hot at the time. Stunt casting, of course. It also had the great Frank Thring in one of his last roles as the Collector. Master was played by Angelo Rossito, who began his career as one of the freaks in Tod Browning’s famous “Freaks.” So MMBT had a certain pedigree. The final chase scene was played more for fun than I would have liked, but this was a kinder, gentler Max. I was always of the impression that Bruce Spence was playing the Gyro Captain. Max seems to recognize him and likewise the character seems to recognize Max. The kid, I always assumed, was the offspring of the Gyro Captain and the cute blonde he hooked up with in The Road Warrior. Where was she? Who knows? It was still a brutal world, after all. But I am seriously anxious to see Fury Road. I think it won’t be as seen, but it will likely be better than AOU. The Toe-cutter is back! Dennis Ramirez Good call on the Gyro Captain. There did seem to be a malevolent hint of recognition in Max’s eyes when he ran across the character at the end of the movie. I suppose you could argue that the recognition came from their first meeting at the start of the film (when Spence’s character stole Max’s caravan), but you could also argue that the Spence character was on a speeding plane at the time, and there’s no way Max would have seen the character’s face in any detail during all the commotion. I’m with you; Bruce Spence was still playing the Gyro Captain! stock A guy who looks like that, whose also a pilot…hard to see how he could be anyone else, but Robert is right that it isn’t very specifically stated. stock BTW. Sure hope some version of him shows in the new film-maybe even Spense himself if he’s up to it! Robert Reineke Spence’s teeth are white and straight in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. I frankly don’t think it matters all that much. After all, the continuity of the Mad Max films is loose at best. As noted, The Road Warrior is a campfire tale of memory. stock The Gyro Captain led the band at the end of the Road Warrior, replaced later by the Feral Kid. The teeth are likely indicative of the actor’s fortunes rather than the character, but maybe they had a pre-apocalypse dentist there. I think it’s the same character because the Max/Pilot relationship is very similar in both flicks, and the little blonde kid ties the two flicks as well. But I am pumped for that new flick. I think Hardy is going to kill it as Max.