Unleash your power.
The new teenage superhero movie Max Steel exists somewhere between the Marvel Cinematic Universe and The Asylum; its cast is too good and production values are too high for SyFy, but it’s far too clumsy and forgettable to ever be mentioned in the same sentence as the half dozen other superhero movies we now get every year. Based on a line of Mattel toys (never a good sign), the movie is a feature-length origin story clearly designed to kickstart a franchise and chase after some of that Marvel money. But after sitting on the shelf for two years and grossing just $6 million during a limited theatrical release in 2016, it appears as though we won’t be getting to see many more Max Steel adventures. That’s probably for the best.
Mopey but handsome teenage boy Max McGrath (Ben Winchell) has just moved to a new town with his mom (Maria Bello, overqualified). They are still mourning the loss of Max’s father, a scientist who passed away and whose work alongside Dr. Miles Edwards (Andy Garcia, overqualified) is shrouded in mystery. Max begins to discover he has unusual powers, emitting and disrupting energy all around him whenever he gets worked up. He is eventually visited by a small parasitic alien robot-looking thing named Steel (voiced by Silicon Valley’s Josh Brener, qualified), who is able to bond with Max to create a superhero not unlike one of those Mighty Morphing Power Rangers. Together they…I don’t know…fight evil? By the time they become Max Steel, the movie is almost over and there’s hardly a bad guy to fight, though Roger Ebert’s Law of Economy of Characters should give you a pretty good guess as to who winds up being the closest thing there is to an antagonist. That’s one of the many problems with this movie.
To list the other issues with Max Steel would be pointless, in that it would take too long and would be a waste of time as this isn’t a movie I can really recommend to anyone. It’s not that it is terrible or unwatchable. It isn’t. But it is utterly generic, crammed with lazy exposition and mythology that borders on silly. Because this is an origin story, most of the movie’s running time is given over to both. There are aspect of it that are reminiscent of the first Iron Man (explaining what would be a spoiler) and aspects of it that are reminiscent of Sony’s Amazing Spider-Man reboot — not necessarily a franchise with which a new superhero movie ought want to be compared. If it were the pilot of a TV show, I don’t think I would continue watching; as a movie, it’s even less of a success. Not on a technical level, mind you; it’s put together well enough and the CG effects are impressive for what was I’m sure a relatively low budget. Lead actor Ben Winchell broods appropriately and manages to say all of his lines, while stars like Bello and Garcia help class up the whole affair. But it’s just all so cynical — a toy in search of a film in search of a franchise.
Universal’s Blu-ray of Max Steel presents the generic movie in an appropriately generic package. The 2.40:1 widescreen film gets a full 1080p HD transfer that is slick and clean, staying true to skin tones and the movie’s blue-tinged color palette. It is the definition of competent. The lossless 5.1 audio track gives us slightly more reason to get excited, with aggressive action, detailed surround effects and clear dialogue. All that’s offered as far as special features are four brief EPK-style featurettes that cover the casting, action and costume for Max Steel. They are more disposable than the movie they are covering.
A film destined for the Wal-Mart bargain bins, Max Steel is more product than artistic endeavor. I’m sure everyone behind the scenes means well, but there are just too many other, better superhero movies for this one to have any hope of standing apart. On the plus side, maybe the toys are fun to play with.
We don’t need another hero.