Film reviews and more since 2009

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) review

Dir. George Miller

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★

The third film in a series can make or break it. There’s a wave of “wow, we got this far?” on part of the filmmakers and a wave of the “I can’t believe they’re making another one” on the audience, and, understandably, filmmakers and studios try to see if they can take the series in a different direction once making it a trilogy. The problem is that, with this change, while certain admiration comes into play for risk, the change in direction can often squander or lessen what was already built from the previous films and solidify the decision for moviegoers not to seek out any more films from that franchise. It happened with the Child’s Play franchise and the Halloween franchise, and unfortunately, it had to happen with Mad Max.

The series, in my eyes, was never an amazing one, but had certain appeal. The first film took the bare basics of action filmmaking and predicated a frightening, if somewhat slight, dystopian story on the large canvas of a desert. Its sequel, however, kicked itself into high gear, formally asserting Mel Gibson’s titular character as an action hero. The third film, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, takes a Return of the Jedi-style approach to the sequel, softening it a bit, decorating it in costumes, trying something completely different, and ultimately, leaving divided reactions in its rear-view.

What was once a series about suspense and disorder in the middle of nowhere has descended into a film that takes the formula of an epic or a classic warrior tale with little effect. Beyond Thunderdome morphs into a film of silly costumes and scenery-chewing fluff rather than capitalizing off of what made the franchise so unique and, often times, quite mesmerizing.

Gibson returns in the titular role, this time exiled into the desert by Aunty Entity (Tina Turner), the ruler of Bartertown. While wandering through the desert, again, trying to remain alive and alert in a sea of chaos and disorder, Max stumbles upon the crashsite of a Boeing 747. The people inside the airplane are members of a Melanesian Cargo cult, many of whom children who act in primal behaviors. After protecting the villagers in the previous film, Max confronts himself in order to try and maintain order amongst the people and protect them, specifically the children, from the dangers of the gangs that lurk in the desert.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome feels like a film that managed to escape the control of George Miller. The film feels hijacked by greater Hollywood forces, who, in turn, minimized the violence, turned down darker themes, and created a film much more concerned with the portrayal of people than the dangers that lurk in the desert. That would be understandable if the film wasn’t burdened by a general sense of disconnect. Little human or character interest can be obtained from these characters, and Max feels as if he has transcended the realm of being an enigma to a completely artificial character, especially when cloaked in ridiculous costumes.

At this point, the franchise’s different direction, equipped with more light-hearted scenes than the first two films and, for a while, what seems like low stakes suspense, especially in the middle portion of the film, does what I feared it would do and that’s take it off course in hopes this particular move would pave the way for greatness. Unfortunately, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome suffers under the weight of its own ambitions and ideas, effectively creating something out of an original property that wasn’t there to begin with. I’m sure if you told the Max from the first film he’d end up in the situations he finds himself in in this film, he’d laugh at you.

NOTE: As of this writing, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome is available to stream on Max.

My review of Mad Max
My review of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

My review of Mad Max: Fury Road
My review of Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Starring: Mel Gibson and Tina Turner. Directed by: George Miller.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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