I’m using the title that Prime put up when they dropped the original Mad Max trilogy on Prime this week in the UK; I don’t remember there being a 3 in there before, but I guess with 1 and 2 being released in different orders in different territories, we need to be clear about just where this sits within the chronology. Mad Max 3 has always been completely beyond Thunderdome in my opinion, which is to say, the poorest of the original three, but on the basis of last night’s viewing, it wasn’t as frustrating as I remembered it.
Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) has been wandering the post-apocalyptic wastelands for some time when our story opens; he’s sporting a ridiculous caveman hairdo when he’s taken to Bartertown, where Auntie Entity (Tina Turner) rules the roost. She encourages Max to fight in the deadly arena known as the Thunderdome, and when Max unwisely shows mercy to an opponent, banishes him to a gulag from where he escapes to lead a children’s rebellion…
What’s missing from the above synopsis, and from the film, is cars; Max has previously driven a super-cool V8 Interceptor, and yet that car isn’t part of the narrative here. Max shows he’s gifted with whistles, spears, chainsaws and all kind of items that seem unlikely to have been covered during his police training, but the automotive theme is dropped in favour of some wooly New Age stuff; there’s several bursts of unwelcome sentiment that feel wildly out of place, and the Maurice Jarre score tries too hard for an epic sweep. Even worse, Max doesn’t seem like the same character at all; he speaks less than 20 times in the second film, but speaks 10 times here in his first two minutes on screen. Max was previously as taciturn as the Man With No Name; his chatty routine here suggests a completely different character with an almost Roger Moore-ish urbane delivery.
Mad Max 3 was pre-ruined in production by the death of producer Byron Kennedy while scouting locations, with George Ogilvie co-directing with Miller, and the result feels very compromised and truncated as if nobody wanted to be there; the final chase scene is good, but it’s the only real action in a film that was expected to be packed with it. Tina Turner certainly makes an impression, addressing crowds like she’s introducing her band at a Las Vegas residency, and the stunt-work is pretty good when it comes, but Beyond Thunderdome doesn’t have the raw verve or direction of the other Mad Max films. And with plentiful greenery, ponds, steam and pools, the world-building is way out of sync with Miller’s parched-dry Tom Hardy reboot; it’s a watchable, big budget lo-fi, sci-fi spectacle, but something of an unnecessary pit-stop in the development of Max Rockatansky, now a boring hero we could all probably do without right now.