MAD MAX: BEYOND THUNDERDOME (1985)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 47 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

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Directed by: George Miller & George Ogilvie

Written by: Terry Hayes & George Miller

Starring: Mel Gibson, Tina Turner, Bruce Spence, Adam Cockburn, Frank Thring, Angelo Rossitto & Gary Anderson

The MAD MAX series has had its ups and downs. The first MAD MAX was a highly original flick that creatively used a blend of genres to tell an interesting story. ROAD WARRIOR managed to surpass that first entry in every conceivable way and brought to life one of the best finales that the action genre has ever seen. So with both those films being highs, it doesn’t take a genius mathematician to figure out what the low is. BEYOND THUNDERDOME is lame. This third installment plays everything far too safe to be much fun at all. It has a crazy first 40 minutes and sinks into silly stupidity during the last hour.

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Fifteen years have passed since Max saved a group of survivors from Humungus. After being robbed of his vehicle and supplies, drifter Max winds up in scummy Bartertown. In this industrial city, Max is tasked by the powerful and threatening Aunty Entity to put one of her subjects back into his place. Max’s assignment doesn’t go as smoothly as planned and he is saved by a group of naïve children who are not fully aware about the current state of “civilization.” It’s up to Max to keep these kids safe, even if the evil Aunty comes a knocking.

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BEYOND THUNDERDOME doesn’t exactly have a great beginning. It feels like something is a tad off and forced about this third MAD MAX installment. This almost seems more along the lines of a post-apocalyptic INDIANA JONES adventure. However, this is supposed to be MAD MAX! The series has its groove and this third installment really steers too far away from that. This being said, the first 40 minutes of THUNDERDOME are tolerable and have cool ideas on display. The city of Bartertown is a steampunk slum that’s brought to life in a unique way. A gladiator-like fight to the death scene is hands down the best part of the entire film. However, things don’t stay tolerable with cool ideas on display.

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Holy shit. The last hour of this film really take everything down a notch in quality. The introduction of a band of wild children comes off like it’s from a completely different series. These didn’t feel like crazy, nutso Mad Max characters. These felt like the Lost Boys from Peter Pan. As soon as these children are introduced, the soundtrack also takes a noticeably wacky and whimsical change for the worst. The PG-13 rating hurts things further as pots and pans are used as weapons during a phoned-in finale that feels as if it was trying to unsuccessfully duplicate the insane climax of ROAD WARRIOR. Tina Turner’s Aunty is a weak baddie compared to the intimidating Humungus from the second film and the demented Toecutter from the first. Action scenes during the final third feel like a chore to sit through. I’d like to say that most of this isn’t because of the out-of-place band of kid characters, but that’s exactly what it is. They play such a huge part in this film that it botches what might have been a satisfying conclusion to a highly creative trilogy.

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Any way you slice it, BEYOND THUNDERDOME is a pretty big disappointment when taken in the context of the MAD MAX series. It still remains a bad film when taken on its own merits too. The distracting tonal change midway through really ruins the fun. When THUNDERDOME tries to imitate things that previously worked in the series, those qualities come off as forced. This especially being true of a lackluster final chase and a voice-over closing that feels cheesy (though it was utilized perfectly in ROAD WARRIOR). There are good moments throughout as well as memorable quotes (“Two men enter, one man leave” “Bust a deal. Face the wheel!”) as well as a sort of promising first act, but things go further and further down the tubes as the running time trudges onward. For the first 40 minutes, I felt like was a watching a MAD MAX movie (albeit a lesser one). For the last hour, I felt like I was watching Mad Max wander into a PETER PAN/GOONIES adventure. Skip THUNDERDOME. I really hope that FURY ROAD cleanses the MAD MAX palette in little over a month.

Grade: C-

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