Now Playing: Xebec LP
After the guys over at Cinefiles suggested that MAD MAX 3: BEYOND THUNDERDOME (1985) is in fact a really good '80s action movie, I became quite interested in seeing it again. My memories of the original run were disappointing enough that I had basically filed it away in the 'never revisit' drawer, but 25 years on the possibility that things had changed with time has to be considered.
Except for Mel Gibson's giant '80s poseur metal hairdo and the tragic loss of his trusted V8 car, Mad Max 3 begins strongly enough. Heading ever deeper into the wasteland, the story is set in what's partly a real sand desert where Max comes upon a trading post large enough to be called a town, built from the debris of the apocalypse. The sets and characters are full of oddball ideas while still continuing the edgy, cynical tone of the earlier movies. Action-wise the steel-cage fight with 'Master-Blaster' is what everyone remembers from the film, but the entire Bartertown segment is solid dystopic action. Apparently George Miller half-abandoned the movie project due to the death of a friend involved, but his hand is clearly present in this promising opening act, which may also recall Paul Verhoeven's satirical sci-fi movies from the same era.
But with Bartertown's resources exhausted in both concrete and thematic terms, Mad Max is on the road again, and here the problems begin. The rest of the movie deals with a colony of children who survived a plane crash during the apocalypse and found a paradisiacal valley in the wilderness, where they lived ever since. It's sort of like Lord Of The Flies meets Peter Pan, and few people, now or back in 1985, seem to like it. The problem to me isn't so much the content or execution of the idea, which has a few neat moments such as the confused tribal mythology the kids have created, but the idea itself as placed inside a Mad Max feature. The Max movies are basically action pieces set in a near future, but the Children's Colony segment is real science fiction, complete with Messianic parallels and philosophical brooding. It's simply not in the same genre as the franchise that gave us the Road Warrior, and so the second half of Beyond Thunderdome was pretty much dead on arrival the moment it went beyond thunderdome. The movie ties the two stories together in the most flippant, uncaring manner (i e: Mel and the kids go back to dangerous Bartertown to seek out the 'Master' for the reason of... what, precisely?) which does demonstrate Miller's absence from the creative chair in a rather painful way.
The closing car/train chase is also poorly motivated by the script (in stark contrast to Mad Max 2) and seems to be there mainly to please the audience. It's not bad, but really just a half-assed retread of the magnificent final reel of Road Warrior. The bad guys too are a pale shadow of Lord Humungus and Wez, and while Tina Turner does a fairly good job and seems to enjoy herself as the local Queen, her casting is somewhat distracting, not least since the rest of the new cast is unmemorable. He got lucky with picking a near-unknown Mel Gibson for the franchise lead but otherwise, casting is clearly not one of George Miller's strengths.
Sorry to disagree with the Cinefiles but Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome isn't a very good movie; worth seeing but not more. 6/10
Seeing Road Warrior and Mad Max 3 in rapid succession served as amusing reminders of what a xerox copy job Kevin Costner's Waterworld is of Miller's creation.