16-year-old Max McGrath is just trying to fit in at his new school when he discovers that his body can generate a mysterious energy. When he meets Steel—a rebellious techno-organic alien who has been secretly watching him—these two unlikely friends find themselves hunted, and must band together to form the superhero Max Steel to stop the sinister forces who want to control Max's power in this adventure of galactic proportions!
Finally, a superhero movie from 2016 which makes 'Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice' look like a stunning masterpiece of modern cinema. 'Max Steel' is moderately budgeted, action-adventure film which is generic, predictable and just plain boring. It is not incompetent on the level of a 'Superman IV,' but it is every bit as forgettable as the latest 'Fantastic Four' reboot. Assuming one isn't familiar with the 'Blue Steel' character and franchise (and I wasn't when I initially reviewed this movie), the title alone should be a clear indication of the type of generic approach this wanna be superhero film takes. 'The Simpsons' ruthlessly satirized this concept long ago when Homer adopted the "Max Power" persona in one of the funnier installments of the long-running series (season ten, episode thirteen by the way). To see a slight variation of the name emblazoned on this Blu-ray package suggests a similar cliche. The contents within confirm my suspicion.
'Max Steel' borrows elements from every comic book movie of the last forty years, without adding anything fresh or original. The main character is a Peter Parker-type, an angst-ridden high school student coming to grips with his family and powers. The costumes are Power Rangers as reimagined by the producers of 'Legends of Tomorrow' and the interaction between Max and Steel rip-offs DC's Firestorm character along with the interactive visuals between Tony Stark and Jarvis from Marvel's 'Iron Man' movies. A power-mastering montage is lifted from 'Spider-Man' and 'Green Lantern' while flashbacks to the hero's past are randomly tossed in like like the most recent 'Batman' flicks. And finally, our beloved hero is reunited with the spirit of his father and given a glimpse of his origin thanks a crystalline object left by his alien dad, in what is either a steal from or an homage to Richard Donner's 'Superman.' Moreover, the derivative moments aren't just limited to the superhero genre. Bicycle scenes in a forest remind me of 'E.T.' (in fact, a specific reference of Steel needing to "phone home" somewhat succeeds as humor in a movie which is otherwise sorely lacking any laughs), and Steel hismelf/itself is a cross between Eva from 'Wall*E' and any random floating droid dreamed up by George Lucas. It's a collection of cliches without insight or feeling.
The storytelling is choppy but competent. The main character, Max McGrath as played by Ben Winchell, is a teen-age loner (described as being 16, but could easily pass for 25) whose lives from place to place with his mother, a widow whose husband has died under mysterious circumstances when Max was just a tyke. They have returned back to the town where his father had previously worked with a scientist named Dr. Miles Edwards (played by Andy Garcia, who has strangely evolved from looking and sounding like a Latin heartthrob to becoming the stereotype of a retired Borscht Belt comedian). The good doctor is still running a laboratory co-founded by Max's deceased father, and the three characters reunite. Meanwhile, Max discover he posseses some strange power which is apparently electrical as well as quantum-based. The extent of his superpowers isn't clearly defined, but apparently he can short-circuit cell phones as well as hold back alien creatures the size of Godzilla. He teams up with a floating alien robot named Steel, who serves as a guide and partner to Max. Together, they are able to embody a suit which is a combination of 'Tron' and 'Power Rangers' and engage in battles which includes martial arts and generating power fields which would not be out of place in the next 'Avatar' movie. The partnership between Max and Steel (hence, the title) is needed to thwart a dastardly villain who wants to hunt down the confused teenager, as well as an outer-space menace which is heading towards earth.
The story of 'Max Steel' is further complicated by a predictable plot twist which appears to have been cribbed from the first 'Iron Man' movie, followed by a revelation of his origin which is as implausible as it is laughable. I really shouldn't spoil this "surpise" since it is one of the few moments which caught me off-guard (and left me shaking my head), so I won't. I can appreciate the filmmakers needing to inject some mystery in what is basically a third-rate comic book movie, comparable to the likes of 'Superboy,' 'Smallville,' and 'Supergirl' (I don't mean just to pick on the DC heroes; Marvel's efforts from the 1970's and 1980's like 'The Amazing Spider-Man' starring Nicholas Hammond and 'Captain America' as directed by Albert Pyun for Cannon films are certainly among those embarassments), but this ill-defined and poorly characterized superhero just isn't worth the effort. I cannot imagine the need to expand on a protagonist who is is better suited as a teenage vampire than as a rousing superhero, nor would I care to see the resolution of an alien threat where all the action is light, thunder and chaos yet lacking any tension or excitement.
The acting is okay. Ben Winchell does what he can in a role which calls of not much more than confusion and angst. Anna Villafane is obviously likable as his love interest, Sofia, but their relationship is one of long looks and what passes for witty banter. Maria Bello plays his mother Molly, and she is the best actor out of the lot, with the most superficial performance coming from Andy Garcia who appears disinterested throughout the production, but then flaunts over-the-top villainy at the end. Josh Brenner voices Steel, and struggles to make Steel sound witty and likable, but it just doesn't work. Even Kitt from Knight Rider sounded more believable.
The action scenes are overall quite adequate for a movie of this genre. The outdoor battles with a giant alien won't impress anyone who has seen all four 'Transformers' movies but I admired the technique enough to re-watch the Blu-ray's "behind the scenes" segments. However, the climactic battle is a bit of a bust, especially when our hero and villain engage in martial arts moves which look especially ludicrous and Power Rangers-like due to the costumes. A scene where Max Steel engages in "stealth mode" has the villain reacting to invisible assaults, a technique which has been justifiably derided by viewers of movies like 'Ator/Cave Dwellers' and 1984's 'Supergirl." Fortunately, this segment occurs only briefly, with not enough time for even the quickest of wits to hoot and holler at the screen even for the most skilled Mystery Science Theater 3000 amateur performers.
To continue pointing out the faults of this movie would be to beat a dying horse. Even with a running time of slighly over ninety minutes, the movie feels longer if only because its predictability makes the viewer long for something interesting to happen, and because the dialogue and direction are as lifeless as can be.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Max Steel' is presented by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment on two discs (one Blu-ray, one DVD) with the Blu-ray occupying a little over half of a BD50. The packaging is nicely illustrated in silver and blue, with a slip cover basically reproducing the colorful insert A paper insert provided instructions to recover the Digital HD download. Front loaded trailers precede that static menu, but these can be skipped.
Presented in AVC-encoded 1080p high definition, 'Max Steel' has an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 initially conveying an epic look to a modestly budgeted movie. While no flaws are evident with the Blu-ray transfer itself, the cinematography is often dreary and artificial-looking. Even outdoor scenes have a look of cloudy overcast, although night scenes have clarity and solid contrast. The CGI special effects look very good, with solid colors and vivid details. even if the designs themselves are not particularly imaginative. The swirling blue lights of electricity which seem to appear everywhere stand up to visual scrutiny and show just how soild mid-budget graphics can look. Practical stunts and wire-work also look great amidst all the CGI enhancements. However, close-ups of the characters lack fine details and even outdoor settings in a forest, on high school grounds, and on city streets lack vibrant colors and are veiled in darkness. It was as if 'Max Steel' insisted upon adapting the look of 'Man of Steel' and 'Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice' but without the depth.
The picture brightens up considerably during the featurettes focusing on the making of the movie, which is in 16:9 widescreen. Again, none of the visual "problems" are related to the produciton of the Blu-ray, but rather with the look of the footage itself.
'Max Steel' sounds much better than it looks. The DTS-HD Master Audio provides a 5.1 presentation which is lively and involving. Dynamics are not as impressive as some of the better surround sound presentations I've reviewed over the years, but the directional sound effects provide a cohesive listening experience. There was plenty of activity in the surround channels to anchor my attention to the loud and brash action scenes, and my subwoofer maintained a healthy workout due to all the low-end sound effects and distinctive music score. This production might have benefitted more from a 7.1 encoding, but what is provided is good enough. Dialogue occasionally suffers due to some less than distinctive vocal deliveries by the actors at the beginning of the movie, but ended up much clearer as the movie progressed.
The bonus features are recorded in Dolby Digital 2.0, which is more than adequate for what are essentially interviews by cast and crew.
'Blue Steel' is hardly the kind of production which deserves lengthy documentation, so what is provided on both the Blu-ray and the DVD is satisfactory despite its predictable superficiality. Surprisingly, there are no deleted or extended scenes anywhere. Given the general disjointed nature of the movie and the rather lean running time, I though for sure that many scenes were left on the cutting room floor. In any event, 'Max Steel' offers the following in high definition and in two-channel audio:
Finding Max (4:24) - This featurette focuses on lead actor Ben Winchell who of course stars as the lead character. Breathless praise is bestowed upon him by his co-stars, director and producer to a likable young man who makes a badly written character a bit more tolerable. Even more fascinating is how the camera focuses on director Stewart Hendler, with harsh, direct lighting which makes him look awkwardly sinister. On the other hand, shots of actress Ana Villafane are very easy on the eyes.
Imagining Steel (3:37) - The "Steel" part of Max Steel gets some personal attention as a special effect, but not of the actor himself who voices the character.
Building The Suits (3:05) - Cosplay enthusiasts may find this segment to be of considerable interest. Oherwise, it's a bit puzzling why these otherwise standard outfit designs would receive this much attention.
Behind The Stunts (3:00) - As one might expect, the training, wire-work and hand-to-hand combat coordination serve as the focus of this segment. As with the other featurettes, this scene is too short to be informative but may hold viewer interest for single viewing.
I watched 'Max Steel,' then drafted this review before doing any research on the character itself. Since Mattel corporation was listed in the credits, I assumed that either the movie was based on a pre-existing toy, or else was the springboard for a franchise of toys. (Years ago, toys like "Rom: Space Knight" had a companion debut as a Marvel Comic, and "Dazzler" was created as a cross-media product for comics, film and music.). Thanks to this fascinating new fad we call the "internet," I have discovered tthat Max Steel is a character going back nearly 20 years with many different media presentations. With this shallow insight, I can now understand the movie's failure: it's a cold-blooded, calculated product which really has nothing to lose, since it's not popular enough to have a reputation, nor interesting enough for anyone to really care about its treatment. There are many, many Hollywood productions which also serve a similar purpose, but this film exemplifies some of the very worst traits of that approach. I cannot recommend 'Max Steel' to anyone.