As the sequel to the perfectly okay Mad Max (1979) and the very good The Road Warrior (1981), Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome disappoints. It emphasizes the adventure aspect of the underlying themes of the Mad Max movies at the cost of its grittiness. Toward the end of the proceedings, before the final chase sequence, the movie becomes rather lightweight; kind of lighthearted, even. It is more plot-driven and a lot less visceral than the second installment.
Co-writer (with Terry Hayes)/co-director (with George Ogilvie) George Miller has established himself as a first-rate visual storyteller. The Mad Max films contain only the bare minimum of exposition. One gets a good sense anyway of how this post-apocalyptic world works and what makes the characters that inhabit it tick.
The setting has been one of the most memorable elements of the series, and the desert wasteland is just as much a highlight here as it was in the previous two movies. In Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, the viewer is treated to not one but two visits to Bartertown, an intriguing town under construction in the middle of nowhere.
Even though it is the least good movie in the trilogy, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome contains several noteworthy scenes. The first of these is a cool, remarkably choreographed close-combat fight between Mad Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) and the Blaster (Paul Larsson) in the arena known as the Thunderdome. Next is the clever, creative “Tell of Captain Walker” scene, after Max is rescued from the desert by a tribe of children and young adults who survived a plane crash possibly caused by
a gang called Turbulence. The climactic car chase at the end of the film is expectedly and exceptionally well-crafted. And the final scenes provide a stirring glimpse of hope for the future of this world.
Gibson’s turn as Max leaves nothing to be desired; the actor nails the role and knows the character like the back of his hand. He played the Gyro Captain in film number two, but here Bruce Spence appears as a different character, Jedediah the Pilot, although there are some similarities between Jedediah and the Gyro Captain. Tina Turner feels somewhat miscast, but she gives an adequate performance in the role of antagonist Aunty Entity, who may not actually be as much of a villain as she seems at first.
In terms of expanding the post-apocalyptic world of the Mad Max series, I suppose Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome must be counted a success. Moreover, the movie brings Max’s character arc full circle. But, alas, it ultimately stands as the weakest entry of the three. If made in the same vein as this one, a fourth installment has very little appeal.