We’ve already seen normal communities ravaged by crazies in Mad Max and the wasteland in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior so it would seem the series has nowhere interesting left to go…except the desert. Lawrence of Arabia with crazy biker raiders, sand dune buggies and a monkey? Yes please. There could be an entirely different struggle for survive in the desert, building off the structure of Mad Max 2.
But then Max (Mel Gibson) gets his camels and gear stolen by some crazy pilot and makes his way to Bartertown. And Bartertown is run by, of all people, Tina Turner. Okay, in the movie she’s called Aunty Entity, but still, Tina Turner? Really? (Exacerbating the obvious stardom, she goes on to talk about how she was a nobody before the wasteland.) In any case Max and Aunty strike a deal, he kills the muscle of an opposing political rival and she outfits him with gear. The only problem is Max has to fight clean inside the Thunderdome.
And it’s in the Thunderdome where the film trips up on itself. While the previous two films simply showed us the harshness of the world and left all the philosophizing in the background, here the Thunderdome becomes a great chance for speeches about the nature of man and all that jazz. But what’s far worse than the speeches is when the film pulls out a giant wheel of judgment that randomly decides punishment. It’s an awkward and not so subtle manifestation of the randomness of evil in the world.
Equally awkward is the combat inside the Thunderdome. The two combatants are suspended by elastic lines and bounce about and clash about, both trying to get at each other without having any kind of way to keep a steady grip. It comes across as more of the kind of thing you might see on a special edition WWE fight and less of a real fight of skill and daring.
But as soon as this ridiculousness passes, the film shifts off into something far more agreeable: a tribal group of kids. Hey! Who put Peter Pan in my Mad Max? They have some crazy legend about how the world was destroyed through nuclear holocaust (thank you very much for spelling out the details George Miller) but that there still remains an untouched city far off that they can fly to. It’s not as if this particular section of the film is grating, once again the series does a good job of making the kids actually somewhat likable, but it’s an odd shift from this grimy desert shantytown to a small oasis filled with kids.
And this shift typifies the largest problem with Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, it’s essentially three separate and distinct films. There’s little coloration between the two and the transition between them are implausible. The worst part is that the film seems to shift character personalities in order to justify the transition. Characters do things we wouldn’t believe them to do, including Max, in order to get us to the third act, which is its own separate and distinct thing.
However, once in that third act, the film shines. Taking cues directly from Mad Max 2, the third act in an extended chase sequence that captures the fun and thrills of the previous film. However, it falls a bit short in that the violence is often portrayed as a bit more slapstick and comedic which doesn’t fit with dark and bleak world. This is a byproduct of the PG-13 rating the film aimed for and while it widens the film’s audience, it also betrayed the tone of the earlier films.
And that’s probably the biggest problem people will have with this film. Most will see it in conjunction with the first two films and it just doesn’t consistently hold that tone. Heck, even with its own context, the film fails to maintain a consistent tone. The film is still fun and the last act in particular is a blast, it just doesn’t feel like a proper Mad Max film. I imagine most will not get past this and will hate the film, perhaps rightfully so. Those who can get past it won’t find anything astounding, but it’s still an enjoyable picture.
© 2010 James Blake Ewing