A Look Back: Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
Even if you’ve never heard of Mad Max before, you’ve likely heard some reference to the Thunderdome, or perhaps the famous line, “two men enter, one man leaves.”
No? Still nothing? What about Tupac then?
Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, released in 1985, is a bit of a departure for the series. Though it maintains much of the series’ signature style, the film carries a decidedly lighter tone and doesn’t contain nearly the same caliber of intense action its predecessors are known for. The scattered plot and uneven pacing make this a difficult film to recommend.
Even thirty years ago, people were complaining about Hollywood’s habit of ruining things, and it’s hard to refute after watching Beyond Thunderdome. Mel Gibson returns as Max Rockatansky, a lone wanderer in the post apocalyptic wasteland. The film starts with Max finding his way to Bartertown, a trading hub in the wasteland run by the glamorous Aunty Entity, played by a chainmail-clad Tina Turner. Yes, she has a servant regaling her with saxophone solos, and yes, this movie is very much a product of the eighties.
It’s difficult to explain this film in a coherent way without just giving a full synopsis, but the plot exists mostly just to loosely string together the various ridiculous characters and set pieces. There’s Master, a dwarf riding a developmentally challenged but hulking man named Blaster–together, of course, that are known as Master Blaster. Master Blaster runs the pig farm and methane production facility that powers the generators of Bartertown, and Aunty Entity recruits Max to challenge and kill Master Blaster in the Thunderdome to put an end to their power feud.
Max is exiled when he defeats, but refuses to kill, the child-like Blaster. Left for dead in the desert, he’s found and rescued by a young girl named Savannah Nix, who takes him back to a small community of children and teenagers in a sheltered oasis. The survivors of a plane crash, they were left behind by the adults who went to find help years ago. They now believe Max to be their savior, Captain Walker, who will take them back to the fabled “Tomorrow-morrow Land.” Max tries to tell the children that there’s nothing for them beyond the oasis, but the stubborn Savannah Nix and a small group of children sneak away in the middle of the night anyway. Max goes after them, and the group has no choice but to travel to Bartertown after running out of supplies.
A daring escape from the town on a methane-fueled train-truck pursued by Aunty Entity and her soldiers serves as the film’s big climactic finale, but it’s a neutered affair with none of the thrill or tension that made the previous films so iconic. The film leans too heavily on comic relief and broad appeal; the pursuing bad guys get frying pans to the face and flail comically as children saw through the bars they’re hanging from. It’s a farcical and ridiculous ending to a trilogy best known for its violence and action.
It’s been thirty years since Beyond Thunderdome was released, and the series is long overdue for a comeback. Mad Max: Fury Road looks like promising return to all the spectacle and brutality of its earlier forebears, and will hopefully learn a few important lessons about what to avoid from Beyond Thunderdome.