Two Men Enter, One Man Leaves
By Bert Ehrmann
June 18, 2010
Part 2: "Pray that he's still out there—somewhere"
Part 3: "Two Men Enter, One Man Leaves"
This is my final column reviewing the three Mad Max movies. If the first Mad Max (1979) film was about a man lost in revenge and the second The Road Warrior (1981) was about redemption then the third Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) must've been about Tina Turner, her golden pipes and a band of roguish children.
In Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (Thunderdome), the world is on its last few drops of gasoline and Max is left to wander the wastes on a pickup pulled by camel team. After his ride is stolen out from under him by a flying father and son team of thieves, Max follows the tracks of his vehicle to Bartertown, the only settlement of any size for some distance. At Bartertown, travelers from all over trade with one and other and with Aunty Entity (Tina Turner) who runs Bartertown and its stable of pigs producing the only fuel around; methane gas. Realizing that Max is the toughest guy in town, Entity makes a deal with him to kill "Blaster," a gigantic hulk of a man who carries little person "Master," an all around smart-guy and Entity's only rival in Batertown, around on his shoulders. Without Blaster, Master would be defenseless against Entity.
Max and Blaster face off in the caged Thunderdome, but after Max gets the upper hand and learns that Blaster is mentally disabled he refuses to finish the job and kill Blaster. Since Max has broken a deal with Entity, he's banished to the desert wastes with no water and supplies.
Entity is really my first real problem with the Thunderdome. Both Mad Max and The Road Warrior (Warrior) have clearly defined and scary bad guys. I wouldn't want to tangle with the disheveled and all-around weirdo Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) from Mad Max and I've actually had nightmares over the hulking terror of the character Humungus (Kjell Nilsson) from Warrior. But in comparison, Aunty Entity isn't nearly as menacing as either Keays-Byrne or Nilsson. In fact, one wonders if Turner's role in the film isn't more for her singing chops (arguably Turner's song for the film "We Don't Need Another Hero" was more of a hit than the film) than any acting chops.
In the wastes, Max stumbles across an oasis inhabited by a group of feral children stranded there after a plane crash took the lives of all the adults. Left to their own devices, the kids have reverted to being a sort of primitive tribe and have made up their own mythos on the world using a mix of View-Master slides and the written etchings on a cliff-face left by the last dying adult. (Though how a group of "primitive" kids can read is another matter entirely.)
With the arrival of Max the kids believe that one of their prophecies have come true; that a man named Captain Walker, whom they assume to be Max, has come to take them home. But when Max can't deliver, the kids expect that he can literally magically fly them away, some become disillusioned and decide it's better to strike out on their own into the wastes rather than to wait for the return of Walker. But out in the wastes there's really only Bartertown and Entity who'd be glad to add a few more laborers to her weird pig-mine and it's up to Max to rescue them.
This whole bit with Max stumbling on the weird mix of kids seemingly pulled from Lord of the Flies with an odd mix of the lost boys from Peter Pan thrown is is where the movie falters again. With Warrior, the creators of the Mad Max series have already established that Max is once again part of humanity and the addition of these kids does little to add to the character of Max than to add a few odd sight gags to the Mad Max series.
Other than Turner as Entity and the kids, what hurts Thunderdome the most is that it's clearing trying to take the best-bits of Warrior (the refinery people in Warrior in need of rescue/ the kids at bartertown in need of saving in Thunderdome, the feral kid of Warrior/the tribe of feral kids Thunderdome, each film ends with a massive chase between Max and the baddies…) and make those pieces a little more tame and Hollywood friendly. But what the creators of Thunderdome ended up doing instead was to water down all the rough bits of Warrior and replace them with something a little more palatable and a lot less interesting.
It doesn't help matters with the film that in the end Max does fly a group of children away even if it's under some clearly non-magical circumstances. Still, Thunderdome isn't all bad. Where would we be without the most famous line from the film, "Two Men Enter, One Man Leaves?"