reviewed by Tom-Tom
After the completely awesome and mold breaking second Mad Max film, George Miller has his own big shoes to fill. Every single post-apocalyptic novel, show, movie, or video game has benefited from the standards set in that landmark film. So with a budget thrice the size of the second picture and 24 times the first one, what will George Miller (and co-director George Ogilvie) bring us this time? Will he take Mad Max down the “more budget than story” route so many series have to its destruction or whip out a new entry into the canon that will outshine the rest?
The film opens with a familiar face, Bruce Spence, playing not the Gyro Captain this time but a thieving pilot all the same. He steals Max’s camels and carriage leaving our hero to walk barefoot in a desert wasteland (Australia). He comes to Bartertown led by Tina Turner playing the breakout role of Aunty. Up to this point in the Mad Max franchise, there have not been many women of note. There was Max’s wife who played the sax and got flattened by rampaging bikers, the dancersizers in the community of the second film but no one really stood out save for that granny with the leg braces and shotgun in Mad Max 1. Aunty is way out of their league although she merely appears as a stalwart rags to riches strong women. By the end of the film, she will have announced contests to the death, led men to race willingly to murder or their own deaths. She believes in Bartertown not with a sappy sentimentality but with fierce pride and a strong sense of entitlement. In this respect, “Thunderdome” is deeper and better balanced than any of the previous films in that the “enemies” too are real people not with diabolical schemes but a plan for survival and a system of laws to keep order in what has been ceaseless dog-eat-dog chaos. One of these rules is that settling of matters in “Thunderdome” where “two men enter, one man leaves.” Another is that when you “bust a deal, you face the wheel,” a sort of Wheel of Misfortune that determines your fate. I saw death, amputation, and gulag on there.
Max’s journey takes him to an oasis of sorts where Lost Boys and Girls or perhaps squatters in an abandoned Ewok Village dwell. The kids are surprisingly decent actors and actresses. If this were an American film, they’d all be burping and farting to loud applause and giggles. But not one of them is as compelling to watch with all of their stylized semi-Pidgin, Clockwork Orange-like ways of speaking as the mute razor-edged boomerang wielding urchin from “Road Warrior”. Their oral history sounds like something filtered through many rounds of the “Telephone Game” in which the message is unwittingly devolved into something senselessly learned by heart. Once again, Max is the unwilling hero forced into circumstances which demand heroism. The stakes don’t seem as immediate or important this time around. There is a final thrilling chase but only one henchman with a Japanese Noh masked festooned on a pole high above and behind his head, is comically relentless (and immortal perhaps) appearing in the thick of things after near death falls, collisions, scrapes etc. I suppose Miller and co deserve credit for not just ratcheting up the blood and guts into some sick exploitation picture. He went in the opposite direction and made this into something like Mad Max Jr. I didn’t feel so concerned for the storytelling urchins as I did for the survivor community of the second film. Max is a survivor and so is the franchise. I look forward to Fury Road.