No one goes out of their way to prove the rule that the third part of of a trilogy is often the weakest but then the counter point is that the human race also has to deal with the fact that Blade: Trinity exists. Over the years, countless franchises have stumbled at that all-elusive third hurdle and yet an unforeseen saviour for underachieving cinematic hat-trick have popped up over the last ten years that in a lot of cases have retroactively made the weakest chapter of a three movie adventure play much better than they were originally received. That saviour is a great part four…
Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome is a good example of this fairly new rule as burdened as a trilogy capping follow up to the practically flawless Mad Max 2, this third installment, with all it’s pre-pubescent tribes and giant Tina Turner shoulder pads, simply didn’t cut the post apocalyptic mustard. And yet now, with the world having been gifted with the stunning brilliance that is Mad Max: Fury Road, a lot of the pressure has been taken off the much maligned Thunderdome as it no longer bares the responsibility of being the final film in Max’s twisted journey.
Welcome back to the dusty void that is post apocalyptic Australia where life has devolved to various wild-eyed lunatics killing each other for fuel in the unfeasibly cruel wasteland. Out of this wasteland limps Max Rockatansky, a road warrior down on his luck due to his supplies getting stolen. The motally disheveled loaner eventually stumbles on Barter Town; a trading post literally fueled by pigshit that is caught in a power struggle between leggy despot Auntie Entity and the tag team of the diminutive head of the power station and his hulking muscle; collectively known as Master Blaster.
Max being Max, he soon agrees to become part of a plan to shift the balance of power by meeting the towering Blaster in Thunderdome – Barter Town’s version of a mano á mano duel, only with bungie cords and chainsaws. After the deal goes sour for virtually everybody except Auntie Entity, Max once again finds himself cast out into the wilderness to die but instead comes across a primitive tribe of children who are the descendants of the survivors of a plane crash who have survived by living in an oasis they’ve dubbed “Planet Erf”. If Max finds this as unlikely as the audience does he does the kids the courtesy of not letting on but instead tries to talk the stubborn gang of kids out from leaving their haven in order to find the promised land. Some slip the net however an Max agrees to get them back before they reach the only outpost in the area… the bloodthirsty Barter Town.
So in typical Mad Max fashion everyone aims to settle their differences by driving their spikey, home-made vehicles as each other at pant-filling speeds as the raggedy road warrior fights to get the kids to safety.
If Thunderdome has a major problem it’s the fact that it seems to be two completely different stories that have been crushed down and slammed together at high speed in a vain hope that all the bits will snap together. And while there are long stretches of Max’s third outing that work perfectly well, the two stories ultimately fit together as well as a block of lego and a bowling ball… This is due to returning director George Miller sharing helming duties with friend George Ogilvie due to a tragedy during pre-production that sadly took the life of producer Byron Kennedy and their dual vision ends up neutering Max’s universe.
The main problem – unsurprisingly – is the cramming of the child cast down our throat. It’s not like the franchise hasn’t utilised lethal little ankle-biters before but where one feral child is unusual and memorable – as ably proven by Mad Mad 2’s murderous moppet – but a whole bloody tribe of them ends up slowing the film to an agonizing crawl with virtually every one of the little bastards proving to be more irritating than a christmas jumper made entirely of fire ants.
It’s a shame because everything up to that point is actually pretty fucking sweet; with the introduction of Barter Town boasting legitimately eye-popping set and costume design not to mention the sight of a crossbow wielding Tina Turner somehow sporting flawless makeup (fuel is scarce but somehow foundation isn’t?). Once again George Miller’s world building (thanks to a heftier budget) is magnificent, building on the dilapidated future laid out in the previous two wonderfully despite the repeated, annoying appearances of Angry Anderson – best known by a generation of soap watchers as the guy who sang the song that scored Scott and Charlene’s nuptials in Neighbours – as a henchman with the luck and survival powers of Wile E. Coyote.
Once again the film ends in a massive, impressive vehicular free for all that somehow falls short of the climatic death race from the previous movie despite a bigger budget, more toys (A train! A plane!) and stunt men who have obviously made their peace with whatever deity they’ve chosen to worship (notice Gibson and Anderson’s names turn up in the list of obviously deranged stunt performers).
A film of three sections loaded with disjointed tonal shifts Thunderdome manages to squeak by despite it’s boring second act thanks to it’s barn storming first and decent third – in fact the actual battle in the Thunderdome itself (“Two men enter! One man leaves!”) is a rare, non-car related action scene for the franchise and actual stands as a major high point in the whole series.
Once again Gibson, despite Max having a bit more of a central role this time and sporting a do that predicts William Wallace by just under a decade, keeps it intense and dangerous even with a bunch of kids hanging around but you’d wish his last outing as the battered wanderer had a little bit more edge.
As the credits roll we are treated to Tina Turner’s belting out the awesome ballard “We Don’t Need Another Hero” – the movie thankfully makes us agree with her. But only just.