This movie is based off a cartoon that was designed to sell toys from the Max Steel action figure line, this kind of marketing tool is nothing new, but the last time Mattel got involved in a live action version of one of their cartoons it was when they sold Canon Films the rights to He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Sadly this version of Max Steel makes the Dolph Lundgren Masters of the Universe look like Lord of the Rings.
In 2013 Mattel and Disney teamed up to make a cartoon about 16 year old kid who gained an alien-tech symbiotic partner and became a superhero, which if you’ve seen a Blue Beetle comic from DC Comics or read the book series that I Am Number Four was based on then this premise may seem rather familiar. Even the Japanese manga Guyver had the same premise, which also got a shitty movie adaptation, but none of those three ever tried to sue over plagiarism because everyone is terrified of Disney’s lawyers.
The movie opens with sixteen year old Max McGrath (Ben Winchell) and his mother Molly McGrath (Maria Bello) moving back to their hometown, which they had left when Max was just a baby, the reason for their leaving stems from the mystery surrounding the death of Max’s dad (Mike Doyle) who was a brilliant scientist and co-founder of an energy research company with his partner Dr. Miles Edwards (Andy García). Dr. Edwards is also instrumental in Max’s mother returning after all these years and he also seems to know about the “mystery” of the dead dad. After living in eight cities over the past sixteen years Max is ready to settle into another hick town but two things change his attitude; the first key factor high is the school hottie Sofia Martinez (Ana Villafañe) who knocks him off his bike and steals his heart, but secondly and more importantly is that his body now begins to emit strange waves of energy.
As is standard in stories of this kind he doesn’t inform his mother of this startling sign of either latent puberty or mutant powers, but instead he decides to keep this bizarre development to himself. Lucky for him his strange power output awakens a parasitic silicon based lifeform that was in a state of stasis over at the company Dr. Edwards now runs. This alien lifeform is called Steel (Josh Brenner) and it informs Max that it’s job is to keep him alive, and this is very important because if Steel does not syphon off the energy that is constantly building up within him then Max the poor teenager will explode. This is an important tidbit of information and it’s lucky that Steel even remembered this fact as he also suffers from movie amnesia, this cinematic aliment means he is only able to provide information to Max piecemeal as the “plot” allows.
The major problem with Max Steel is it doesn’t know quite what kind of film it wants to be, does it want to be a superhero film and get some of that green that Marvel and DC are raking in? Is it a science fiction adventure movie about a boy and his robot? Or is it a Young Adult movie where the hero will team up with a beautiful and spunky girl to help him outwit the authorities? Sadly Max Steel is none of those things. Max does get a cool Iron Man suit to fight evil alien invaders with but it’s screen time is very limited and almost not worth mentioning, we do get some fun moments between Steel and Max as they try to learn just what awesome abilities they will have if their energy can align harmonically but those scenes are choppy and often ruined by the annoying flashbacks as Steel remembers his past with Max’s dad. As for the Young Adult romance aspect of the film, well they tend to forget Sofia even exists for the bulk of the movie, her character serves no purpose to the plot and exists solely because the writers are under the misguided assumption that if a movie takes place partly in a high school the hero must hook-up with some free spirited hottie.
I won’t go into spoilers here just in case someone out there wants to watch this movie but the mystery surrounding the death of Max’s father is such a convoluted mess that it almost needs a prequel movie to explain it, and the film’s chief villain is so terribly telegraphed that he may as well have been wearing a shirt stating I’M EVIL. How poorly written this movie can be summed up by describing one scene in particular, after overhearing his movie and Dr. Edwards arguing over telling Max the truth about his father Max decides to go on his computer to look up what went down that fateful night. Seriously, we are supposed to believe that in the sixteen years since his father’s mysterious death Max never once googled his dad’s name? Max even complains that his mother has never told him about his father, but his dad is a famous scientist and after ten minutes of research on is laptop he’d know quite a bit. Of course this is the movie universe where information can only be provided at appropriate dramatic times. This thing is a mess right out of the gate and as it hints at a greater story we can tell they’d hoped to turn this thing into a franchise, but there is no real danger of that.