Max Steel is a 2016 American superhero science-fiction-action movie directed by Stewart Hendler. Based on a Mattel action-figure line by the same name, it basically centres on Max Mcgrath (Ben Winchell), a young teenager and his exploits alongside an alien creature called Steel (Josh Brener) who combine to form the multi-powered superhero Max Steel.
Before I start my analysis of this film, I just want to come clean on the fact that I came into this movie knowing almost nothing about Max Steel. I never had the privilege of experiencing the action-figures that this movie is based off mainly because the hype they were getting in the United States never really translated in my country Kenya and thus it didn’t make enough business sense at the time shipping them here in large quantities. As I can recall from my early childhood, most of the kids I used to interact with while in playing sessions had their own toys that they made by hand with easy-to-access items e.g. bottle-tops or carton boxes.
However, I do have faint memories of the Max Steel T.V show later on in life; I watched 7 episodes at most but I wasn’t really a fan. In fact I only forced myself to watch them because that’s what most of my peers in class were talking about at lunch breaks and while on the way home. I obviously didn’t want to be left in the dark on the show’s happenings so I took a blunt initiative to watch it. That said, I certainly do not look back on the show now and say that it had as much of an impact on me as the likes of Mighty Ducks, Casper The Friendly Ghost or even Jacob Two-Two did. I watched this 2016 film with a clean slate; nothing to tie me back to my childhood, nothing to fan-boy over and thus you can be guaranteed that this review is going to be as fair as it can possibly be. My views might not resonate well with the Max Steel die-hard fanatics who indeed grew up idolizing the character but being the critic that I am, I simply don’t care.
I’m not a director myself but even if I was, there is no way, in spite of my meagre experience, that I would make a movie such as this; shambolic is an understatement. The first bane to this photoplay’s existence is the mediocre lead characters with the exception being Maria Bello; I will let her off the hook because her character didn’t really bother me as much as the others did. Despite the horrible material at hand, she gave it her all and you could see it in the way she was carrying herself around. Additionally, she doesn’t get as much screen-time as Max and so Maria’s involvement in this embarrassment of a project should be treated with considerable sympathy. I would say the same for Andy Garcia as Dr. Miles Edward but unlike Maria, his character was in too deep in this mess.
Max Mcgrath is one of if not the most unappealing characters I have had the reverse pleasure of investing my time on. Putting all the science-fiction stuff aside, his character seems like someone you ought to be sympathizing with. His father’s dead and therefore lacks a father figure in such a crucial life period, he does not have a stable life since he and his mother have been moving around from town to town (an issue that the latter converse about in the 1st scene) and finally he is a subtle loner. Who would possibly not find these attributes compelling in a way that will give the desire to know how he will transition into someone better in the end? Well, the answer to that question is Stewart Hendler. The way I see it, this director lacked a way of finding a jigsaw fit between story and character. What I fundamentally mean is that Max Steel would have been better if it presented a more action-packed spectacle with a story that isn’t trying to take over the movie. This, of course, did not happen and we eventually ended up getting more story (a bad one at that) with little to less considerable action.
There are a lot of moments in the film that will surely make you find irritation in Max. Yes, he might have issues that include his pursuit to find out what happened to his father and why he has these abilities which he can’t understand but I wasn’t getting the hang of it. What I got from the character, for starters is that he is inconsiderate of family property. Upon realizing that he can emit sperm-looking energy from his fingertips, he goes out to the forest to experiment with the household appliances which he inadvertently sets on fire. Max also came off as someone who is mentally odd, for lack of a kinder word; as he is doing more research on the accident that his dad had and how that ties into his powers, he goes on to type ‘’Who am I?????” on the Google search slot; how dumb, right? His unlikeable ways go on to an even higher level when and after he meets Steel; an alien life-form that harnesses excess dangerous energy that he emits. Somehow after shockingly coming across this alien, he fights it off for a short while but eventually becomes accustomed to it almost immediately as though they are best of friends; he isn’t even open to the possibility that it might have had hazardous motives.
Sooner rather than later, the two are now being pursued by unidentified men dressed in black and Max decides that his school, of all places, is the safest place he can take Steel since apparently he fears that the alien will be dissected by the bad-guys. Yes, there is a strong possibility that the ‘men in black’ wouldn’t try and attack them there but nevertheless, you just can’t be oblivious to the fact that Max was conceivably putting everyone’s life at the school in danger; it’s a no-brainer.
Steel is just as much of a dumb character; has memory loss but somehow it can remember select information about its past that Max so badly needs to know of i.e. why it wants to protect the teenager and names of certain household items such as a clock which it calls a chronometer. Another problem I had with the latter that really bugged me, even if it was for a short while was how and why it was able to smell bad odour; case in point when Molly comes to his son’s room to check on his welfare and Steel hides in Max’s dirty laundry basket. Last but not least, it calls Sofia, Max’s liaison “girl creature”. Really? That’s what the scriptwriters of this film could come up with? Wow!
Speaking of the angel, Sofia (Ana Villafane), well… let’s just say she is the epitome of everything you will seldom find in a 21st century girl. She gives Max a ride on her car, tells him intimate secrets about her i.e the name of her car, asks Max out on a date, all within a couple of days of meeting him; how improbable. You might argue that the circumstances in which they met (a cliché guy and girl bumping into each other) probably made her open up to him more easily but I wasn’t buying it, I just wasn’t. To compound on the disaster that was Ana Villafane’s character, she is still very interested in Max even though she has already established that he is awkward and clumsy to a point where she is even willing to meddle in his troubles.
Fake tension is very much prevalent on here. I couldn’t quite comprehend why Max and Steel for a considerable portion of the 2nd Act were so worried about an imminent danger that had not been established yet up until the latter parts of that particular act with the ‘Ultra-links’. Staying on the latter subject, if indeed the Ultra-links are so dangerous that they can destroy the world, why isn’t the world involved in quelling the endangerment? Why don’t we see the involved parties at least doing something about it? Anyway, we never get to see the ‘links’ in the movie again after it attacks Max Steel. By hook or by crook, the movie presents to you a situation that it expects you to be concerned about but the opposite is what you eventually feel.
Going back to Max and Sophia, the photo-play is additionally forcing you, the viewer, to care about the ‘would-be’ intimate relationship between the two and yet it doesn’t take enough time to make you make meaning of it. Everything that goes on around them is not ideal to convince you that love is in the air and the worst casualty out of all of this, as I mentioned earlier, is Sophia. She is a weak character, with no backstory whatsoever and definitely not someone any girl can look up to and relate to. In addition, the movie relies heavily on these ‘flashback’ sequences and that is very much a staple of intolerable writing; most if not all include Max’s dad and the part he played in this whole fiasco. By the way, I strongly feel that McGrath Senior should have had his own arc at the very beginning of the movie because the story very much stems from him.
Personally, I feel sorry not only for the people involved in making this film, but also the die-hard fans of the retro-material which Max Steel is based off; the potential was there, but it failed miserably nonetheless. I wrote about 3 pages worth of flaws that I noticed, many of which could not make it to my final cut because I think I hit a home run in explaining how bad my movie experience was. All I can say for people who haven’t watched this film yet and have just read this review is “You’re welcome”. I think I just saved you one and a half hours that you would have otherwise spent counting stars or something rather watching this Stewart Hendler motion-picture.