This past weekend, Mattel’s Max Steel Movie opened to little fanfare ($2.1 million). Opening in wide release in 2,034 screens, the movie opened with a paltry per theater average of $1,032. But how can a movie with such potential end up so disappointing?
Max Steel started off as a GI Joe-esque action figure line, and evolved into a CGI animated series. The show followed the exploits of Josh McGrath; an extreme sports star who was exposed to nanotech, and became a super spy named Max Steel. The show made it 35 episodes, and faded into relative obscurity in the United States (though it seems to have continued in Latin America for over 10 years). In 2013, the show rebooted itself; albeit in name only; now focusing on 16 year old Max McGrath, and his alien companion Steel, as they fight the Ultralink aliens.
This is where the Max Steel movie gains its inspiration from- the 2013 alien duo iteration. Filmed in 2014, it was held from release, and unceremoniously dumped on a quiet October weekend with not much fanfare or promotion. The movie seems to have been made to support a TV show and toyline, both long gone from shelves and Disney XD.
We open with Max McGrath (Ben Winchell), a 16-year old teen who moves back to his home town of Copper Canyon with his mother (Maria Bello) – “Fresh Start Number Nine” as Max says. Max is a sad loner, a boy who misses his deceased father that he never knew, likes karate, and is also an artist. Max isn’t like most other teenagers, his mother mentions how he “runs hot,” electrical equipment shorts out when he touches it, and for some reason, Max frequently has his shirt off.
Max tries to fit in at his new school, living in his father’s shadow. He also meets a girl named Sophia (Ana Villafane), who narrowly runs Max over with her truck. Ben goes home after Sophia fixes his bike (after copious amounts of googly eyes) to find his mom talking with Dr. Miles Edwards (played by…ANDY GARCIA?! Somebody did a favor movie!). Miles is Max’s dad’s former partner at N-Tek, and a survivor of the horrific accident that cost Max’s father his life.
The high point of the film is Steel (voiced by Josh Brener), Max’s alien companion. Steel gets released from his stasis in the abandoned N-Tek building, as Max continues to release Tachyon energy. Steel shows up and reveals his purpose – to work in a symbiotic relationship with Max and absorb the excess Tachyon energy so Max doesn’t explode. Steel is a great character in the movie; bringing some levity to Max’s brooding, plus he’s got the best lines.
As the movie progresses, we learn more about Max’s mysterious power (if you guessed “Dad was an alien,” treat yourself to a prize!) and how he can use it to be T.U.R.B.O. Charged! In addition to martial arts skills and strength, Max and Steel can merge together using T.U.R.B.O. energy to become Max Steel! Max Steel is a super-powered costumed hero that resembles a Iron Man/Power Ranger/Guyver style suit.
So where does the film fall short? The movie is beautifully shot, taking advantage of the gorgeous North Carolina scenery, and many of the shots are full of beautiful landscapes and sunsets. The visual effects also look great – the tachyon effects, and the Ultralink tornado come to mind as high quality effects. The suits are sleek and well put together – even if Andy Garica looks like a half-human Ultron. Max’s suit looks like an updated version of a Guyver suit, fluid and powerful.
The main problem lies with the movie’s brisk 92-minute run time. We get a brief introduction to each character, but the movie races to the end at T.U.R.B.O. speed. It could benefit from spending more time focused on the people in Max’s life, such as Sophia, the girl who loves Max for no discernible reason other than the dictation of the plot. We know that she’s beautiful, her and her dad work with trucks, and not much else.
The movie rushes through the basic plot points, and tries to get to the end. Had they spent some more time working on character development and let themselves have some fun, the movie would have been much better. The fights were also too brief. The Ultralink fight is very short, and the end battle has some great fight choreography, but also suffers from being too short and anti-climatic. The film was packed with so much potential – how else do you get Maria Bello AND Andy Garcia in a movie that will probably end up in the WalMart dump bin before next Summer?
I had mixed expectations about Max Steel – as a fan of Tokusatsu shows, I was excited for some martial arts and special effects action, but the lack of promotion or support by the studio threw up some major concerns. I found myself enjoying more of it than I thought I would.
Pacing and development issues aside, the movie is great to look at, Steel is a fun character, and there is something oddly rewarding about the utter ridiculousness of Andy Garcia crammed into a Power Ranger-esque suit. If you’re somebody who’s a bit burned out on superhero movies, you’ll probably not find a lot of new concepts in Max Steel, yet another CGI-filled origin story for a hero that is sadly forgettable and will fail to launch a franchise.
Max Steel is now playing in a theater near you – but probably not for long.