Monday, January 10, 2022

Mad Max Ventures Beyond the Thunderdome

Mel Gibson as Max.
The third film in director George Miller's post-apocalyptic Mad Max series faced a daunting task from the outset: Surpassing or equaling The Road Warrior (aka Mad Max 2). The latter was an intelligent, thrilling sequel that left the original Mad Max in the dust--and was also one of the best films of 1981.

Still, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) gets off to a promising start with Max headed to the makeshift, desert city of Bartertown to find the helicopter pilot who stole his truck and belongings. Bartertown is ruled by Aunty Entity (Tina Turner), whose reign is threatened by Master, a dwarf who controls the city's source of power. Aunty Entity offers a deal to Max:  Kill Master's bodyguard, Blaster, and she will equip Max with everything he wants.

Tina Turner as Aunty Entity.
As required by Aunty Entity's own laws, the showdown between Max and Blaster must take place in a large, confined arena called the Thunderdome. The plan goes smoothly until Max has a change of heart at the last minute. It's a decision that leaves Max stranded in the desert with little hope of survival.

Up to this point, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is a taut, entertaining action film. However, screenwriters Miller and Terry Hayes make a sudden left turn with Max being rescued by a group of abandoned children. The kids have formed their own adult-free community in a desert oasis. It turns out they are the survivors of a plane crash and believe Max is the pilot who has returned to lead them back to civilization (or Tomorrow-morrow Land as the kids call it).

Max takes aim.
This entire subplot comes across as forced, from the children's "unique" language to the obvious parallels with the Lost Boys in Neverland. It's almost as if George Miller watched The Road Warrior and keyed in on Max's relationship with the Feral Kid. That worked well--so why not put Max with a bunch of kids and transform him into their reluctant hero? Of course, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome reverts to an action film for the climax, with another extended chaotic chase sequence (which lacks the "wow" factor when compared to a similar scene in The Road Warrior).

Mel Gibson's cynical drifter and Tina Turner's powerful Aunty Entity are the highlights of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Alas, they only have a few scenes together and Aunty disappears for the entire middle portion of the film (and has little to do during the climax). It would have been interesting to learn more of her backstory, especially how she became the ruler of Bartertown.

Despite generally positive reviews at the time of its release, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was only a modest box office hit. The soundtrack did well, though, spawning two hit records for Tina Turner:  "We Don't Need Another Hero," which hit #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and "One of the Living," which peaked at #15.

George Miller worked on several ideas for a fourth Mad Max film starring Gibson. However, by the time he was ready to make Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), thirty years had passed and the role was recast with Tom Hardy. I'd rank Hardy's film as the second best of the Mad Max series, right behind The Road Warrior.

(Note: Although Bruce Spence plays helicopter pilots in both The Road Warrior and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome), they are different characters.)


  1. Great stuff, as always, Rick. My only added comment would be that Fury Road was much more Charlize Theorn's film than Tom Hardy. In fact, I just re-watched The Dark Knight Rises and realize I just do not like Hardy, at all, as a villain. Or maybe even as a sort of hero, as he is in Fury Road.

    1. Yes, Fury Road was as much her film. In fact, the next installment in the series will focus on Furiosa. Of course, we'll have to wait until 2023!

  2. I've never seen any Mad Max film, which can sometimes lead to awkward conversations. Someone will reference something and, seeing my blank look, will say, "Like in Mad Max", and we're no further ahead. Maybe it's time for a Marathon Mad Max Weekend.