American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
It's not supposed to happen this way. Sequels are not supposed to be better than the movies that inspired them. The third movie in a series isn't supposed to create a world more complex, more visionary and more entertaining than the first two. Sequels are supposed to be creative voids. But now here is "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,'' not only the best of the three Mad Max movies, but one of the best films of 1985.
From its opening shot of a bizarre vehicle being pulled by camels through the desert, "Mad Max Three'' places us more firmly within its apocalyptic postnuclear world than ever before. We are some years in the future; how many, it is hard to say, but so few years that the frames and sheet metal of 1985 automobiles are still being salvaged for makeshift new vehicles of bizarre design. And yet enough years that a new society is taking shape. The bombs have fallen, the world's petroleum supplies have been destroyed and, in the deserts of Australia, mankind has found a new set of rules and started on a new game.
The driver of the camels is Mad Max (Mel Gibson), former cop, now sort of a free-lance nomad. After his vehicle is stolen and he is left in the desert to die, he makes his way somehow to Bartertown, a quasi-Casablanca hammered together out of spare parts. Bartertown is where you go to buy, trade or sell any thing -- or anybody. It is supervised by a Sydney Greenstreet-style fat man named the Collector (Frank Thring) and ruled by an imperious queen named Aunty Entity (Tina Turner).
And it is powered by an energy source that is, in its own way, a compelling argument against nuclear war: In chambers beneath Bartertown, countless pigs live and eat and defecate, and from their waste products, Turner's soldiers generate methane gas. This leads to some of the movie's most memorable moments, as Mad Max and others wade knee-deep in piggy-doo.