The first three Mad Max films are all violent, but different in tone. The third, Beyond Thunderdome, was not even originally a Mad Max film, which explains some of the differences. Mad Max: Fury Road promises to be different again, if nothing else because of time that’s passed. It’s been thirty years since Beyond Thunderdome. The film makers promised minimal use of CGI, but if you are using it to remove safety cables, you’re still taking advantage of new technologies. They also have a bigger budget for cool vehicles (and have finally corrected the questionable but cinematically impressive use of a clutched blower). Purists might argue that filming in Namibia instead of the Australian outback is a cheat, but thanks to climate change, the actual environmental degradation of the outback does not look like environmental degradation, so another location was necessary. (Read an article about the actual and imagined environmental issues of Fury Road.)
Consistent with the earlier films, Fury Road is violent. There’s not much else to cause offense – a touch of non-sexual nudity, a couple of swears – but lots of violence, as noted by classifiers everywhere. There are many deaths during the chase sequences (i.e. most of the film) but less gory violence than I was expecting, based on the advisories. A few disturbing moments were narratively justified, not simply to show off effects or for shock value. Across Canada the rating was consistently 14A, and most other jurisdictions also set a mid-teen age limit, though in several countries that limit is regardless of adult accompaniment.
There is a controversy about the portrayals of women in this film – not because they are victims, but because they do something about being victimized. One men’s rights reviewer called for a boycott of this subversive film, while feminist reviewers have celebrated the film. The best response is this one. The argument that Max is relegated to a lesser role in favor of a female hero is silly. In both Road Warrior and Thunderdome, Max is a helper to other leaders – a pregnant teenage girl in Thunderdome. He’s the wandering stranger that comes to restore social order, but does not become part of it. There’s still a traditional romantic subplot in Fury Road, and the presence of strong female characters and gender issues adds depth. However, the biggest difference in tone compared to the earlier films is not the strong female characters or the gender issues, but the ending. There’s no place like home.