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Max Steel (2016) Review

Max Steel is a 2016 science-fiction superhero movie about a young man and a small alien companion who combine to make a powerful protector of Earth.

mv5bmtk2mtmwotk3n15bml5banbnxkftztgwmdi5otyxmdi-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_The thing I loved most about my toys while growing up was the limitless options for doing and creating anything I wanted with them. Action figures and race cars could become whatever I could think of in my fertile imagination, and it is this power that drives many great toymakers to deliver their best inspirations. Mattel’s line of Max Steel toys have been around for nearly 20 years and I can only suppose have been a solid source of imagination for children who owned them. They spawned a short-lived animated series and nine direct-to-video animated films, and now, the first big screen adaptation. I am not a kid anymore and my sense of imagination has evolved, so my experience watching Max Steel is surely tainted, but I can only guess that a young fan who does get to see this movie will surely be disappointed.

Max McGrath (Ben Wichell) is an introverted 16-year-old boy who looks like a 20-year-old clothing model. He’s been moving from town-to-town with his widowed mom, Molly (Maria Bello). Their latest stop is the hometown of his now dead father (played in flashback by Mike Doyle), a once promising scientist who was killed in an unexplained explosion. His partner, Miles (Andy Garcia), is now in charge of the company he and Max’s father built, and he makes his presence known by stopping by the house to dutifully check in. He holds a secret though.

Curiously, it’s not long after when Max discovers some oddities about his body, and not the kind you’d expect in a boy about to become a man. Household electrical appliances get the jitters and even spark themselves to death when Max is nearby. His computer screen wobbles as he passes his hand in front. And streaks of blue energy beam out of his fingertips. It’s life-changing stuff. Just when he’s most confused, in drops Steel, a little hovering bug-eyed alien drone-like machine who has all the answers. Or at least some. Seems Max has some special powers for a special reason and Steel is going to show him how to use them.

Directed by Stewart Hendler, and, as mentioned, based on a line of Mattel toys, Max Steel is lifeless, joyless, perfuctory film that follows the now standard superhero origin story best established by its other inspiration, Iron Man (2008). That is, a likable but disillusioned protagonist is introduced, a conflict is established, a discovery is made, training takes place, a nemesis arrives, and the hero barely wins. With the action figure toy line itself an homage of sorts of the classic G.I. Joe line, there’s already precedent for sticking hardily to something that worked once before.

Max Steel
Max Steel, 2016 ©Open Road Films

One of the larger issues is in fact the familiarity. How often have we seen heroes gain powers they can’t quite control at first who then rapidly become master of them? Answer: Too often. Watching Max flip about and test his abilities in an abandoned warehouse is not only unimaginative, it’s lazy. It’s not helped either by the addition of Steel, a smart-alec robot-like device (voiced by Josh Brener) who sounds like a mix between David Cross and Steven Merchant‘s brilliant work as Wheatley in Valve‘s Portal 2 puzzle video game, itself a hovering sarcastic robot. Yes, he gets a few laughs, but mostly it’s just flat and misguided.

Bello is at her usual best, the only real bright spot in the film but Garcia, who has become great potential for character work, simply does what’s necessary, giving no weight to the role. There is also the love interest of course, here played by Ana Villafañe. She is Sofia, the smart, pretty girl who is also a bit of tomboy and is suitably charming and fun to watch, but like everything in this movie, a cog in the slickly-produced machine.

While there are some impressive visual effects, the film sputters and chugs along with no creativity, eventually becoming just a random series of loud noises, inane dialog, and seen-it-before set pieces. That’s all coming from an adult who long ago put away his children’s toys. Will this be a well of imagination for kids who grew on the Max Steel toys and cartoons? It’s doubtful, but perhaps some might see it, go home, grab their action figures and make a better movie in their own minds.

Max Steel (2016)

Film Credits

Director: Stewart Hendler
Writer: Christopher Yost
Stars: Ben Winchell, Josh Brener, Maria Bello, Andy Garcia, Ana Villafañe
Genre: Sci-Fi, Action, Superhero
Language: English

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