Tuesday, September 15, 2015

"Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" (1985)

Starring Mel Gibson, Tina Turner and Angelo Rossito
Written by George Miller and Terry Hayes
Directed by George Miller and George Ogilvie
Rated PG-13: Violence, language
Running Time: 107 Minutes

"Mad" Max Rockatansky wanders the wasteland alone in a wagon pulled by camels that contains all of his possessions. When a scavenger (Bruce Spence) and his son ambush him and steal all of his stuff, Max tracks them to Bartertown, a small city ruled by Auntie Entity (Tina Turner) on the surface. Bartertown is powered by methane culled from pig feces, and the engineer in charge of it all in the underworld is a duo named Master Blaster — the diminutive Master (Angelo Rossito) and his hulking, silent bodyguard Blaster (Paul Larsson).

In exchange for the return of all of his property, Max agrees to engineer a fight against Blaster to help Auntie Entity solidify her control over the entirety of Bartertown once and for all. But once he enters the Thunderdome, a gladiatorial arena cage where "two men enter, one man leaves" and there are no rules, he discovers that Master Blaster is actually the benevolent one and Auntie Entity the villain.
I don't really know what's going on in this movie. George Miller's best friend apparently died during preproduction, so a second director, George Ogilvie, was brought in to help carry the load. I'm not sure if that's what's responsible for the mess this movie is, but it seems likely enough.

For one thing, there's an extended sequence in the middle where Max is exiled into the desert and comes across a camp of children who had been abandoned after the apocalypse by the an airline pilot who was supposed to have been flying them to safety. It seems to have almost nothing to do with anything other than forcibly giving Max a reason to return to Bartertown after he gets kicked out.

But in general, the problems with "Beyond Thunderdome" are that it's incredibly boring and that the whole thing feels really forced. After the wonderful "Road Warrior," this feels like a movie no one was really invested in... like at all. Mel Gibson doesn't seem as "mad" as Max anymore, and, saddled with his terrible haircut, doesn't really do much in this movie other than get into a fight that he barely wins and then he rides on a train.

Seriously. I only just watched the movie and I'm hard pressed to think of more than just the two action sequences in this movie. The ending wants to repeat the success of the vehicular joy that was the third act of "Road Warrior," but changes things up by putting Max, Master and some children on a train being chased by Auntie Entity's enforcers. The sequence itself isn't poorly put together save for one brief bit involving Ironbar (Angry Anderson) hanging off the side and trying to evade various obstacles whipping by on a bridge. That part is just... bad. But when you're watching the movie and you see all those cars roaring across the desert, you think that finally we're getting to the good stuff and we just never really do.

The Thunderdome fight itself feels too comical for its own good. Max and Blaster are put in bungee harnesses so they can leap up to the top of the dome and collect weapons hanging there, but it mostly just makes it look like the two are kids throwing themselves awkwardly around a bouncy house.

Tina Turner makes an effective villain if only because she's a bit of a larger-than-life presence and she's clearly enjoying chewing the scenery. But that's about it. "Beyond Thunderdome" is a tired, nonsensical film that's not even bad in a good way. It's just boring. The subplot about the kids feels like a completely different movie and the PG-13 nature of it all makes it feel dumbed down, like one of the many pretenders to the post-apocalyptic throne that its predecessors spawned.

After watching this one, there's no wonder it took nearly thirty years for another "Mad Max" film to make it to theaters. And yet... somehow this thing has an 81 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with people praising the action and acting. I find myself wondering if I watched the same movie as some of these critics. Certainly, I'm aware that there's a division in the fandom. Obviously, I'm on the side that finds "Beyond Thunderdome" a tedious bore of a film.

Thank god for "Fury Road."

See Also
"Mad Max"
"Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior"
"Mad Max: Fury Road"