It’s been quite a while since I’ve last seen this movie. And I kinda have this weird feeling that most people aren’t all that familiar with this one since it barely gets brought up in discussions when talking about Mad Max. Given that its sequel is far more popular and Beyond Thunderdome is rarely talked about outside of making tired references to the title.
It could also just be the fact that Mad Max is an entirely different beast than the rest of the series. First of all, this isn’t a post-apocalyptic movie. Society and civilization all still exist here. Max himself is a police officer and we constantly see signs that this world is still largely normal. But what I do really like about the setting is that you can clearly make out signs of the “end-times”, if you will. This society is not stable and seems to be in the last days before collapse. At least that’s how I read it, given that there’s a heavily armed highway patrol unit basically hunting down surprisingly numerous criminals. The movie goes to great lengths to paint due process as something in the way of how things are actually done, as we see in the scene where Johnny the Boy gets released from custody on the basis that nobody came forward to accuse him of the crimes he obviously committed.
But what I like most about this movie is the justification for its title. The descent Max goes through in this movie is genuinely shocking I feel. And while it’s obvious that the movie either lacked the budget or the know-how to actually show us the gruesome carnage Max has to endure – since I kinda doubt this was done out of some sort of restraint, to not appear as an exploitation movie – it still carries enough gravitas to make the final hunt seem as relentless as possible. The final confrontation with Johnny the Boy was executed in an absolute brilliant manner. That short drive across the hill while Max realizes who’s motorcycle he sees on the side of the road and the final confrontation hammer the point home that to Max, society is a lost cause and that he became what he feared most. At best a vigilante with the thin excuse of actually being a police officer and at worst a monster acting out of sheer unbridled rage.
That is not to say that the movie is perfect or even better than The Road Warrior. The many car chases and fight sequences make the movie feel overlong at barely 90 minutes. Coupled with a story that suffers from the weird pacing where it basically grinds to a halt during the action scenes and then rushes between locations and events between them makes it hard to follow at times. It also doesn’t help that the movie relies heavily on speeding up footage to make it appear like the cars and motorcycles are driving faster than they actually are, adding more fuel to the fire that is the frenetic pace of the rest of the movie.
But that’s also the beauty of it, it’s a rough, dirty and borderline unfinished movie. It’s just as unpolished as the world it shows and I commend it for actually being bold enough to tackle the mental state of a main character. This is what makes a high-concept movie great, it’s that the people making it have a genuine interest in the human condition and aren’t just in it for the spectacle. It’s clearly a labor of love and in spite of all its downsides, I still think Mad Max is a great movie that should be regarded higher than it is.