Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
George Miller is a mad genius. The Mad Max films (Mad Max, The Road Warrior, Thunderdome, and Fury Road) are achievements in ingenuity, practical special effects, action cinematography, and imagination. Max Rockatansky is a nomad wandering the barren plains of the post-apocalyptic Australian Outback. Beyond Thunderdome, Miller’s third and star Mel Gibson’s final outing in the title role is a bizarre, action-packed trip that holds up spectacularly in a world of CGI movies.
When the film opens, we know some time has passed since the end of Road Warrior. The world seems worse than before, and Max looks older, with his long stringy hair and beaten body. We’re never told how much time has passed since the fall of man, but based on the memories of the movie’s inhabitance, probably twenty years. Maybe less.
With his truck stolen, Max wanders into Bartertown and is immediately thrust into a cold war between the town’s founder, Aunty Entity (Tina Turner), and Master (Angelo Rossitto), who powers Bartertown with methane gas via pig feces. Master has stolen Max’s truck, using it to power the engines that keep Bartertown operational. Aunty offers Max, who she learns is a cunning warrior, a chance to get his truck back if he defeats Master’s enforcer Blaster inside of the Thunderdome. What follows is one of the most unique fight scenes ever filmed. Max and Blaster are hooked to giant rubber bands and bounce across a domed cage trying to secure weapons. Imagine a steel cage match mixed with Cirque de Sole. When Max discovers Blaster is a hulk with the brain of a child, he refuses to kill him. Aunty turns on Max and takes Bartertown from Master outright, keeping him in the filthy pen with his pigs. Max is banished to the desert.
Max’s unconscious body is discovered by a band of Lost Boys-like teenagers who bring him to an oasis village. The children are primitive descendants of a 747 crash, whose parents left them years ago to find help and never returned. The children believe Max is the pilot who they revere like a god. Legend says this Captain will take them back to the big city, which they call Tomorrow-morrow land. Max tells the kids there’s nothing out there but desert and Bartertown, neither of which they want. But a girl named Savanah doesn’t believe him and leads a band of kids out to find their destiny in Tomorrow-morrow land. Max goes after them, knowing they couldn’t possibly survive in the outback, and saves them from a sink-pit.
Max agrees to take them back to the city, even though he knows what’s there, but they’re going to need his truck first. He leads a daring raid back into Bartertown, where they free Master, who wants to start a new life himself. They steal Max’s truck and destroy Bartertown’s energy infrastructure in the process. Aunty needs Master back to rebuild Bartertown. She sends her minions in their all-terrain vehicles to capture him.
The movie’s climax is pure Miller, with Max’s truck doubling as a train as Aunty’s racers close in. The action is incredible and even more impressive by 1985 standards. The chase ends as the kids load into a small plane, which takes off as Max kamikazes his racer into Aunty’s brigade. Master and the kids settle in the burnt-out ruins of what we assume is Sydney and try to restart civilization while telling the tales of the man in the desert.
Though the tone is lighter and less violent than Road Warrior or 2015’s Fury Road, Beyond Thunderdome is a fun watch. The script is full of one-liners and interesting character moments. Miller’s love of action set-pieces and strange characters is on full display in this chapter of one of the most influential action series in history. These films are a visual experience that must be witnessed with fresh eyes. Don’t sleep on the fantastic title track from Tina Turner. Experience the lunacy!