“Now, when men get to fighting, it happens here! And it finishes here! Two men enter; one man leaves.”
Everything I loved about the first Mad Max sequel is what is missing in this third installment, Beyond Thunderdome, which is the weakest entry of the trilogy. I was surprised to discover that this film was so warmly received by critics in 1985 when it came out because I felt like they changed the entire structure of the series and the Max character. Whereas Mel Gibson played Max as a quiet and antisocial character in The Road Warrior, here he seems to enjoy chatting with others and transforms himself into a completely different person. Beyond Thunderdome also lacks some of the spectacular choreographed vehicle chases that the previous films had and which made the franchise such a hit. It isn’t until the final 20 minutes of the film that we actually get these spectacular chases and by that time I really didn’t care too much for the characters. It’s unfortunate because George Miller’s vision of this post-apocalyptic world is intelligently designed, but somehow the characters and the story arch take some absurd turns. The film itself seems like it’s divided into two separate movies. In the first half we are introduced to Bartertown, a civilization that is being built in the middle of the dessert, and then the second half takes place in the middle of an oasis where a group of young teenagers and children are patiently waiting for a savior to lead them home. These two stories didn’t feel like they belonged in a same movie together and the film takes an incoherent turn from what it was doing in the previous Mad Max movies. This seems to be a much more family friendly film and somehow the producers convinced Miller to include the Max character so they could bank on the success of the franchise, but it feels like a completely different story.
Beyond Thunderdome begins with Max (Mel Gibson) traveling through the dessert having his vehicle towed by a group of camels when all of a sudden a plane flies so close to him that it knocks him off the road. In a matter of seconds the pilot, Jedediah (Bruce Spence), jumps off the plane and steals his vehicle while his son flies the plane back home. Max is left with nothing in the middle of the vast wasteland. Fortunately he discovers that there is a nearby city called Bartertown where travelers exchange goods. The city is ruled by Aunty (Tina Turner) who is trying to bring back civilization after a nuclear war has nearly wiped out the entire population of the world. Of course in order to build this civilized city she governs the place by controlling the population with soldiers and slaves. She can’t run the city on her own however, because the city needs energy which is powered by Master Blaster who is using pig manure to produce methane. Master Blaster is actually two characters, Master (Angelo Rossitto), a midget who rides on a giant’s back named Blaster (Paul Larsson). Master is the brains, while Blaster is the brute force. Auntie wants Blaster out of the picture so she can control Master along with the rest of the city on her own. That is where Max comes in handy because she soon discovers that he is a talented warrior who might just be able to defeat the monster. He promises Max vehicle and gasoline if he accepts to face off Blaster in a death duel inside the Thunderdome, the place where all problems are settled and justice is served. The film takes some unexpected turns along the way leading Max through the dessert once again where he is saved by a group of tribal children who seem to confuse him for Captain Walker, a man who supposedly promised to lead them back to civilization.
The film suffers an extremely rare tonal shift once Max arrives at the oasis where the tribal children live, but it never ceases to entertain. The Thunderdome scene is by far the best action sequence of the movie and the film is almost worth recommending just for that. It’s an inventive fight scene that is expertly choreographed and shot through some great camera angles. The final twenty minutes of the film are action packed, but it comes a bit too late. It’s in these action scenes that George Miller’s direction seems to excel, but the narrative structure and character development does suffer as the film tries to bring all these different archs together in an unconvincing and none-cohesive manner. The sequel seemed to have lost the heart and soul of Miller’s previous visionary post-apocalyptic world, but I’ll still give the film credit for trying to do something completely different from the previous sequel. Unfortunately that inventiveness didn’t pay off and I would’ve preferred Miller stick closer to the world he had envisioned in The Road Warrior. I didn’t care too much for the villains in this film either and that is why I found this to be the weakest entry of the series.