We here at Nerdist are humongously excited about Mad Max: Fury Road opening this weekend — several of us have been looking forward to it for months. I’ve recently re-watched and reviewed the first Mad Max film, and done its sequel, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior as part of this here column.
But, friends, and it saddens me to admit this, I hadn’t, until the night before this writing, watched 1985’s third installment, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. This movie is arguably the most quotable of the bunch, but I’d always heard it wasn’t very good. It’s certainly the weakest of the three, but it’s still full of great Mad Maxery, and bunch of post-apocalyptic weirdos and cars that’d never exist. Oh, and some kids…hmm…
Australian writer-director George Miller’s first two Mad Max films had been the biggest moneymakers in his homeland, and made a good splash abroad as well. He had done both of those movies with producer Byron Kennedy and had intended to keep going with him. However, Kennedy was tragically killed in a helicopter crash while location-scouting in 1983, and Miller was heartbroken. Miller didn’t much want to make a third film, but pressures from Warner Bros forced his hand. As such, Miller only agreed to direct the action sequences in the film, leaving the film’s myriad dialogue and character scenes to George Ogilvie, with whom Miller had worked previously. Mel Gibson was about to blow up like crazy in America with 1987’s Lethal Weapon, and Tina Turner was cast in this movie as well, mostly likely in order for her to do some songs for the soundtrack. And her ability to say “Raggedy Man.”
This movie, unlike the first two in the series, explicitly takes place after WWIII, meaning Max has been wandering the barren wasteland for who knows how long (15 years, I guess). His hair is certainly a lot longer. He is traveling in a camel-drawn wagon when it’s attacked by a funky old airplane piloted by a man (Bruce Spence) and his son. After leaving Max with nothing, the Mad one follows the trail of the plane to an outpost called Bartertown.
At first, Max is barred from entering because he has nothing to trade, but quick reflexes get him noticed and he’s asked to leave his weapons (all 10 of them!) at the gate and taken to see Aunty Entity (Turner), the ruler of the town. She presents Max with an “audition” wherein a bunch of her goons attack him and he beats them all, and then she tells him if he does a task for her, she’ll give him his vehicle and supplies back.
That task involves pig poop. The town runs on crude methane emissions from pig feces, and the refinery is controlled by a dwarf named The Master who sits on the back of a giant behemoth of a man called The Blaster. Together, they’re called Master Blaster. Obviously. Seems Master Blaster is attempting to challenge Aunty’s control of Bartertown and Aunty doesn’t like that. She wants Max to pick a fight and face the Blaster in the Thunderdome, a steel monstrosity where people settle differences using gladiatorial combat attached to springy lengths of material for supreme jumping. Max sizes up Master Blaster and discovers that Blaster is immensely strong, but is extremely sensitive to high-pitched noises, like a car alarm, or like the whistle Max always carries.
The fight in the Thunderdome lasts for a bit, with Max only really able to jump away. He pretty much gets his ass handed to him, dropping the whistle in the process, but eventually he’s able to get it back and blow the high note, sending Blaster into a tizzy so Max can bash his head with a hammer. However, when the Blaster’s helmet comes off, it’s revealed that he’s got Down Syndrome and Max refuses to kill him. Master runs to his bodyguard and says he just has the mind of a child, but Aunty’s goon shoots Blaster with a crossbow, killing him. Since Max broke the law of Thunderdome (“Two men enter. One man leaves.”), he’s forced to follow the other law (“Bust a deal, then face the wheel.”) which spins and sends him to exile in the desert.
This is when a completely different movie begins. Max goes out into the desert, tied up and blindfolded with an ugly mask, and very nearly dies. Luckily he’s found by Savannah Nix (Helen Buday), who drags him back to her primitive, children-only society who have managed to find the last forested area in, apparently, the whole world. The children believe Max is the Captain of an airplane that’s wrecked out in the desert, whom they believe is destined to come and save them. They clean Max up, cut his hair, and try to get him to do stuff, but he’s like “Nah, mates, I’m not a pilot!” He wants them to stay in the relative safety of the oasis, but Savannah leads a few other kids out to find the nearest town, which of course is Bartertown.
Max goes after them to try to save them, but after depleting all the supplies, and losing a kid to a sand trap, they’re forced to go to Bartertown, which is not going to welcome them. They manage to sneak in, free Master and a prisoner Max befriended named Pig Killer (guess what his crime was) and they escape on a train-truck, which is the generator for the town, causing explosions along the way. Aunty gives chase along with her goons and then the movie actually becomes a Mad Max movie. Luckily, the end of the train line also happens to be where the pilot and his son have built a massive underground home and Max forces them to fly all of them out of there.
This movie isn’t bad, it’s just not nearly as awesome as the first two films. We watch Mad Max movies for the car chases in the middle of the desert, but that doesn’t happen here until the last, like, 15 minutes of the movie. Clearly, these scenes have George Miller’s imprint on them the most. The beginning of the movie is pretty good too, with Max in Thunderdome, but that doesn’t last too long, and the time spent “Beyond Thunderdome” with the kids in the oasis is a lot less exciting and enjoyable. Like I said, not bad, just not even close to the amazingness that is The Road Warrior.
If this had been the last Mad Max film made, I’d have probably never watched it, but so excited am I for Fury Road that I decided to traverse Thunderdome. Will it be as awesome as part 2 or just as okay as part 3? I guess we’ll all find out this Friday!