Max (Ben Winchell) is a high school aged kid who has moved around a lot in his life. Upon finally returning to his childhood home, he starts displaying special powers as he emits energy from his body. With the help of a robotic alien named Steel (Josh Brener), Max learns to utilize his powers to unravel the mystery of how his father died.
“Max Steel” is directed by Stewart Hendler and is written by comic book writer Christoper Yost. We knew very little about “Max Steel” prior to seeing it. We didn’t even see a trailer for this film, but apparently, it is based on a Mattel toy and an accompanying cartoon series. It stars Ben Winchell as Max McGrath, a young teen who has spent his life moving from place to place with his mom Molly, played by Maria Bello. Molly has finally decided to return to their hometown, which is where Max’s father Jim, played by Mike Doyle, had a fatal, tragic accident many years before. Once in this house and in this town, Max’s body starts going through some changes, and we don’t mean puberty. He begins to suddenly emit tachyon energy from his body, which awakens a long-dormant alien named Steel, voiced by Josh Brener, who comes to find Max and helps him utilize that energy. He also helps Max by attaching himself to his body and sucking his energy until he’s drained so he doesn’t explode. Nothing phallic about that! When their powers are combined, they become Max Steel (so creative!) and can turn Max’s natural tachyon energy into the more powerful TURBO ENERGY! as they GO TURBO! together.
What we have here is a cliché ridden superhero origin story made for young kids. It is very by the book in the way it handles Max’s evolution from loner teenage to new found superhero. He goes through the expected, awkward learning phase early on where he blows up electronics and other household items accidentally, literally Googles “What am I??????????????????????????” (yes, with that many question marks), and twirls his newly discovered powers in the air while alone looking forlorn on a dock, you know, same ol’ same ol’. The plot is revealed through a series of plot devices…oh, sorry, we mean clouded memories that start to reveal information as these details become pertinent to the story when our characters just so happen to remember things at exactly the right times. Of course, Max has to keep running out on his like interest Sophia, played by Ana Villafañe, because he doesn’t understand the changes his body is going through and does his best to hide those changes in front of her. Okay, “Max Steel” is clearly a metaphor for puberty. Then, halfway through the film, comes the plucky comic relief in Steel, who is by far the most likable thing about this film. Though he is also the main source of exposition delivery, Steel brings what little fun this goofy, dumb movie has.
“Max Steel” doesn’t know what it wants to be. It feels too dark and drab for a movie about a children’s toy, and it’s too silly and stupid to be a PG-13 rated action superhero movie. We couldn’t help but feel that this movie is made up of an amalgam of scenes from other better projects the filmmakers just had to have included to make this feel edgy and interesting, when really, it’s just a damn mess and had the opposite effect on us. There are moments which seem to be taken straight from some of our favorite flicks, like the barn scene from “Twister” and many more from “Iron Man.” The way they display the hero’s face while in his suit looks like low budget version of Marvel’s resident snarky-Stark-y himself. Though all of the content here is presented as a mystery, there is absolutely no real mystery to it. We know who the villain is from the second they appear on screen, and we figure out what happened to Max’s father long before he does. Though the filmmaker offers one or two twists, they are only a little surprising because of how trite and stupid they are. Add some white bread, bland as rice performances on top of all of these already terrible problems, and you’ve got recipe for disaster.
In the end, though there are a couple of fleeting moments of mild entertainment, overall, “Max Steel” is a very poorly done, predictable mess that feels like a knockoff of many other better movies, and it’s vacuous to boot. Avoid this one at all costs.