Sunday, August 12, 2012

Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome

I'm a huge fan of Mad Max and it's even-better sequel, The Road Warrior. I don't like making lists, but if I did, I just might rank The Road Warrior in my top 10. I was a little worried about the third installment, 1985's Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, since you just don't hear people say too many good things about it. I was pleasantly surprised. While I think it's the worst of the series, there's a lot of really cool stuff in it anyway, and it's still worth watching if you love Mad Max like I do.

The first act of the movie follows Max Rockatansky as he finds himself in the middle of a (literal) power struggle between Auntie Entity, the leader of Bartertown, a last ditch effort to keep some semblance of civilization in the wake of the apocalypse, and Master-Blaster, the megalomaniacal dwarf-and-giant combo who control Bartertown's electrical supply. These are the movie's best sequences.

It takes a turn for the worse as Max finds himself as a savior to a bunch of child survivors of an age-old plane crash. The kids are sort of smack in the middle between the Ewoks and the Lost Boys from Hook, and just as annoying as both. It's as if the studio said to George Miller, "Hey, people really liked the Feral Kid in Road Warrior. Do more of that."

The third act picks up a bit as it finally delivers the car chase action that Mad Max movies should deliver up front. I think that was my biggest concern with the movie for the first two thirds. Where the hell are those crazy souped-up cars? Well, you just have to wait.

It's really the inclusion of annoying kids that bugs me. And the toned down violence, but I can get past that, I guess. If they all had razor boomerangs that cut the bad guys' fingers off, maybe they'd be fine.

There's a lot to like, too. Mel Gibson is great. Bruce Spence returns as a pilot, though it's unclear if he's actually the Gyro Captain from Road Warrior. It's safe to say he probably is. Like he did with Road Warrior, George Miller shoots Thunderdome to look like a radiation-burned Akira Kurosawa movie. Max is a post-apocalyptic Yojimbo. I love how vivid and detailed the Mad Max universe is at this point. Miller has deepened and expanded it with each movie, and the amount of detail in the production design is insanely impressive. This place looks funky and lived-in. And hey, how many movies can boast Tina Turner in a weird wig? Or a dwarf who rides on a giant's back who consider themselves one unit?

Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome is an imaginative, watchable sequel, but it seldom reaches the heights of its predecessors. For a great down and dirty, low budget exploitation film, watch the first Mad Max. For a bigger, better, more intense, downright crazy action movie, watch The Road Warrior. Thunderdome is like the family friendly, 80's Steven Spielberg version of those movies.

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