In 1979, first time Aussie director George Miller, and up and coming young Aussie actor Mel Gibson made a no budget, C-grade exploitation flick called Mad Max. It was the little movie that could, becoming a hit in Australia and turning enough heads in America to warrant a bit more money for a bigger budget sequel. A sequel that came two years later with Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. Bigger, crazier, campier, it ramped up everything approaching insane in the first movie and went balls out over the top in the best way.
In 2015, George Miller defied all the odds by returning to the franchise 30 years after its last entry and making a genuine hit that was universally loved, with the Tom Hardy lead reboot, Mad Max: Fury Road. But today, it’s the movie that made Fury Road such an unexpected hit that I’m writing about. A movie that killed the franchise for three decades. A movie that could be the epitome of franchise exhaustion… Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.
Riding through a post World War III desert wasteland, Max (Gibson) has his caravan and team of camels stolen. He tracks them down to Barter Town, a steam punk style shanti city, with electricity freely flowing in a world that hasn’t had easy access to power in years. Only allowed in if he has something to trade, Max’s ass kicking abilities get him noticed by Barter Town leader, Aunty Entity (Tina Turner), who agrees to let him trade his life for one week in the town.
Trading his life means fighting in Thunderdome. A gladiatorial competition for the post apocalyptic age, where two men enter, one man leaves. Aunty Entity wants Max to fight and kill the monstrous Blaster (Paul Larrson), one half of the Master/Blaster partnership. While the Blaster is the seven foot, hulking brawn, the Master (Angelo Rossitto) is the diminutive brains. Together they harness methane from pigs that provides Barter Town’s electricity. Now they’re using their utilities monopoly to usurp power from Aunty Entity, who decides that Max is the key to regaining her authority.
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome falls victim to the same mistake of a lot of sequels to surprise successes. It gets watered down to reach a wider audience. The first movie was dark and disturbing, with dead babies and what not. The second ramped up the violence and gore. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was the first to get a PG rating. And that pandering to reach more and more people really dilutes everything that made the first two so cool.
It’s like taking the drugs, nudity and sex out of Revenge of the Nerds so they could make Revenge of the Nerds 2: Nerds in Paradise suitable for the people who were too young for the drugs, nudity and sex of the first one. But here’s the thing, it’s precisely the things they were too young for that made so many kids love the original so much, turning it into a surprise hit and cultural phenomenon, making a sequel impossible for the studio to resist.
As much as the preceding paragraphs might make it sound otherwise, I didn’t actually hate Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. If anything, it was a little better than I remembered and expected. I was only five when it came out, but even at that young age, I feel like I remember it being badly received. I saw it on telly a few years later, when I was probably 10 or 12, and thought it was a pretty lame compared to The Road Warrior. But watching it today, I could see a lot more potential in it. As a wrap up to the series, it certainly puts a bow on things and the basic story is cool enough. I just think it needed a more liberal rating than PG so it could have gone a little more hardcore.