Swaggering through a post-apocalyptic Aussie outback future where very little remains but desert and everyone dresses like a spiky-haired, over-accessorised 80s punk, Mel Gibson returns as hard-as-granite rebel Mad Max Rockatansky, and he’s pissed. Gibson is on fine form as the grizzled, heroic lawman who wanders the outback, scavenging for survival, righting wrongs and skelping bad guys in the face. Looking slightly fruitier with long hair and a flowing tunic, Mad Mel is, thankfully, still a reliably gritty and intimidating presence, more than capable of equalising entire units of fearsome cyber-punks with little more than some badass attitude and his wily wits.
In the third instalment of George Miller’s classic Road Warrior series set in a world where, due to energy shortages, society has broken down and lawlessness is rife, someone has pinched Max’s automobile, so he sets off to settle the score. Arriving at the intimidating, seedy desert outpost of Bartertown, ruled over by the sadistic Aunty Entity (Tina Turner!), Max wastes no time making his presence felt. When he’s stopped and threatened by some scary blokes with swords, Max whips out a Big Fucking Gun (B.F.G.) and shoots the hair clean off one guy’s head, just to show he’s not messing around. He explains he’s looking for something someone owes him and he ain’t leaving til this shit gets sorted out. When he’s told that he can’t go any further until he surrenders his weapns at the door, Max cheekily produces an entire arsenal from under his cloak: crossbows, knives, guns, the lot. It’s a hilarious scene and sums up this man’s headspace: he lives for war.
Upon hearing of his potential as an enterprising whupper-of-ass, Aunty swiftly strikes a deal with Max, promising to help him if he agrees to provoke a fight with the diminutive Master, who controls the town’s energy resources and challenges her leadership. In Bartertown, electricity, vehicles, functioning technology are made possible by a crude methane refinery, fuelled, quite wonderfully, by pig pooh. Master, carried around by his massive, masked bodyguard, known as Blaster, has started getting cocky, putting embargoes in place that are starting to make Aunty look daft, so she wants Max to challenge him to a fight in the Thunderdome, a terrifying colosseum where feuds are settled mano-a-mano. Max thinks ‘why the hell not?’ He loves a good fight. As if to prove this point, he passes his ‘audition’ by seriously maiming three of Aunty’s warrior goons. Fair dinkum!
Going undercover to size up his opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, Max takes up a highly unenviable job shovelling pig shit in the underworld, where he discovers that Master Blaster is the one who has taken possession of his vehicle. Master also turns out to be a right cocky little bugger who likes bullying his workers and shouting grans statements like ‘Me run Bartertown!!!’ Max cuts the jerk down to size by saying, ‘Sure, that’s why you live in shit!’ but has to bide his time, when all he really wants to do is slit the guy’s throat. Eventually he realises that big lug Blaster (who wears a ridiculous helmet that looks like a bin) is susceptible to high pitched sounds and figures this is his chance to beat the guy, so he seizes his chance and challenges him to a fight in Thunderdome where, as the locals never tire of chanting, ‘two men enter, one man leaves.’ Nice.
The Thunderdome is a deliciously savage creation, a massive dome-shaped cage filled with spikes, booby-traps and what-have-you, where both combatants are strapped to massive stretchy bungee cords and forced to do battle with whatever weapons the onlookers throw to them, whilst athletically bouncing around like acrobats. Upon entering, one wild-eyed spectator tells Max, ‘I know you won’t break any rules – there aren’t any!’ Though I guess this isn’t strictly true, as the whole crowd continue to chant the whole ‘two men enter…’ mantra. Silly bugger!
Still, the battle is immense, with Max somersaulting all over the place, trying to outwit the human juggernaut as they go at each other with everything from spears to chainsaws. Our hero, armed with a whistle that he hopes to use to deafen his adversary, ends up taking a hell of a beating and drops his secret weapon. Bruised and battered, he resorts to Plan B: kicking Blaster’s head in. Displaying athleticism worthy of the most spry, wiry jungle monkey, Max outwits his opponent and eventually gets the better of him, knocking off his helmet and deafening him with the now retrieved whistle, before doing him in with a massive hammer.
However, just as he is about to deliver the killing blow, Max realises that his opponent is actually mentally-handicapped and refuses to kill him. It is a cracking display of compassion and even as the crowd chant for Max to finish him, he refuses – this was not part of the deal. As he stands down, Aunty’s goons step in and finish the job with a crossbow, leading one to wonder why they didn’t just do that in the first place. Max is made to pay for being such an honourable and just dude in these times of lawlessness, as Aunty banishes him from town, tying him to a horse and sending him out to the desert to die.
Luckily, Max is a clever bugger and sneakily attaches a gourd of water to a monkey and sends it out into the desert for him to find later, just before he is banished. Smart! However, this only gets our hero so far and eventually he succumbs to the harsh desert heat. Staring death in the face, Max thinks his number is up, before he is rescued by Savannah (Helen Buday), leader of a bunch of desert-dwelling kids who have formed their own tribal community, like a futuristic version of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys.
After getting a much-needed haircut, Max is back to his sleek, short-haired best and accepted as the saviour of this gang of savage-but-innocent urchins who speak their own muddled up language and are convinced that he has come to lead them back to what they quite irritatingly call ‘Tomorrow-morrow Land.’ Max tries to convince them that they’re better off where they are, and he’s not far wrong, as their little forest community is the closest the Mad Max franchise has ever got to paradise. Max, as always, is looking after the best interests of the innocent and knows that the nearest township is Bartertown – a horrible, unforgiving sleaze-pit that will surely chew them up and spit them out.
However, the Savannah sees his coming as a sign and is determined to leave anyway, so when Max tries to stop her, some of the young ones rise up and attack him with spears. Of course, a bunch of kids is no match for The Road Warrior, who shows he’s not to be messed with by punching Savannah, knocking her out for her own good. Despite his efforts, the rebels set off anyway, forcing Max to chase after them and show off his hero credentials by rescuing them from killer quicksand.
Lost in the desert and conceding that heading to Bartertown might now be their only hope for survival, Max leads the kids back for a final face-off against Aunty’s evil empire. Using the kids to help sneak back into the methane refinery, Max starts a revolution by blowing the place to smithereens, taking half the town with it, before whizzing off in liberated car-cum-train vehicle thingamajig. At long last, the sort of high speed vehicular battle that made the series famous ensues and it is well worth the wait.
A squadron of baddies give chase in a fleet of amazing, souped-up off-road cars and monster-trucks, giving Max and his new pals the opportunity to off them in a variety of thrilling ways. Max shows off his superior driving skills by leaping from car to car and battering the drivers, not pausing for a moment’s breath. It is a great sequence with some amazing stunt work: Mad Max at his best. Stunt drivers clearly earned their wages on this one, as cars dangerously swerve across rail tracks and off cliffs as the baddies do all they can to get revenge.
Eventually commandeering a small plane to assist their escape, the gang realise that they are carrying too much weight to take off. Max, heroic as ever, gets off the plane, sacrificing himself to ensure these kids a better future than the one offered by aunty and her wretched disciples. He bravely drives a truck straight at the convoy of pursuing villains in order to clear a path for his new pals to take off, hence saving the day. Max displays such bravery that, catching up, aunty decides to just spare him and drives off, laughing. That is seriously cool: here’s a guy that is so courageous, the villain just lets him go out of respect for the size of his balls.
What a Hard Bastard!
INDESTRUCTIBILTY: 6/10 – Battles armies of tooled-up future-punks and rarely looks ruffled, though does depend on a whistle to save his bacon. A close shave!
COMBAT SKILLS: 7/10 – Shows his skills with all manner of weapons and bounces about the Thunderdome like a spider-monkey!
ATTITUDE: 9/10 – Does it all for the kids. Dude! Could do with more one-liners, though…
OUTRAGEOUSNESS: 7/10 - Jumps from car to car like a lunatic, and all good heroes should have helper monkeys, just in case.
BODY COUNT: 4 kills in 107 minutes – not very mad! 1/10
MEL’S SCORE: 30/50
MEL’S AVERAGE SCORE: 26.667/50 – a lot of work still to do!