In the middle of a post-apocalyptic desert sits Bartertown, a haven for scum and criminal held together by a frail rule of law. After his supplies are stolen the wandering Max seeks shelter there, and becomes embroiled in a power struggle. When he escapes with his life, just, back in the desert he discovers an oasis populated by children.
Although rather disdained for its shift away from the rugged nihilism of the first two Mad Max movies, this third, far more expensive, post-apocalyptic action adventure offers some cracking stunts, a more elaborate sense of the ruined world, and a more human side to Mel Gibson’s stern antihero. It may not be as bracing as Mad Max 2, but George Miller, the series’ guiding light, proves more assured than ever before.
It’s a film distinctly sliced into three segments. First there is the arrival of Max into Bartertown to confront Tina Turner’s haughty, self-appointed queen known as Aunty (ostensibly the villainess, but there is some sense to her endeavours to wrest civilisation from the desert) only to be condemned to battle in the Thunderdome. This, the film’s most remembered sequence, has Max fight the ruling champion — a combo of simpleton hulk and brainy midget known as Master-Blaster — while suspended on an elastic harness from the vaults of a giant dome. He scrambles away to find a lost horizon of children, who think him a divine rescuer. A situation that will force him back, children in tow, for an appropriately motorised confrontation with the bandits of Bartertown. The action thrums away happily, the performances crackle, and the movie proves properly thought out top to tail, gathering up a mythic quality.
Indeed, Miller’s vision of a future barely in tact, really takes on definition. Pigs are farmed for their methane gas, and beneath Bartertown is a literal shithole. The carnival of contraptions, including a ramshackle train left over from before the end, is dutifully whacky and lethal. It is world fully occupied, a step into the beyond civilisation’s fall into a wonder of ruin and making-do. And Gibson, grey templed and ever-taciturn, remains the rock on which it is all built.
Disjointed but it still rocks.