Max Steel (2016) poster

Max Steel (2016)


USA. 2016.


Director – Stewart Hendler, Screenplay – Christopher L. Yost, Based on the Mattel Toys, Producers – Julia Pistor & Bill O’Dowd, Photography – Brett Pawlak, Music – Nathan Lanier, Visual Effects Supervisor – Chris Wells, Visual Effects – Hy*drau*lx (Supervisors – Colin Strause & Greg Strause), Lion Visual Effects (Supervisor – Michael D. Leone), The Sequence Group (Supervisor – Ian Kirby), Shade VFX (Supervisor – Bryan Godwin) & Soho VFX (Supervisor – Keith Sellers), Special Effects Supervisor – Will Purcell, Suit Effects – Legacy Effects (Supervisor – J. Alan Scott), Production Design – William O. Hunter. Production Company – Open Road/Dolphin Films/Mattel/Ingenious Media/Services Limited.


Ben Winchell (Max McGrath), Josh Brener (Voice of Steel), Maria Bello (Molly McGrath), Ana Villafane (Sofia Martinez), Andy Garcia (Dr Miles Edwards), Mike Doyle (Jim McGrath)


Teenager Max McGrath moves back to Copper Canyon with his mother. This is near the N-Tek plant his father created before he was killed in a laboratory explosion when Max was young. Max’s body now begins to uncontrollably emit bursts of energy. He then encounters Steel, an alien entity who says that it has been sent to guide him and absorb the tachyon energy Max is emitting before it builds to an explosion. As Max finds himself hunted by thugs wanting to obtain his powers, he discovers that he is capable of merging with Steel to form a power suit. With Steel’s help, he starts to learn how to master his newfound abilities.

Max Steel was a line of toys released by Mattel beginning in 1997. The toys were a series of action figures that came with accessories so that Max could be outfitted for sports and military/action adventures, as well as a line-up of companions and villains. These were also accompanied by a series of Mission Cards detailing the adventures and a comic-book explaining the back mythology. The backstory was elaborated out into the animated tv series Max Steel (2000-2), which consists of 35 episodes from several different animation houses. The series gave us Max’s background as an orphan teenager who is adopted by a sports goods manufacturer (whose company is actually a front for a spy agency N-Tek). When a villain breaks into the laboratory, Max is accidentally exposed to a series of nanobots that give him superpowers and allow him to fight for N-Tek. There were a subsequent nine Max Steel made-for-dvd animated films (which have only been seen in Latin America and not released in the English language) and a further animated series Max Steel (2013-6).

This is a live-action feature film based on the Max Steel toys (or rather drawn from the mythos laid down in the animated series). Clearly, Mattel and the producers of the film had some of idea of competing in the high stakes superhero box-office being enjoyed by Marvel and belatedly DC Comics. Alas for such ambitions, Max Steel, while being released to over 2000 theatres in the US, had one of the most disastrous box-office showings of any film of the year (coming in at 160th place on the box-office charts), earning only $3.7 million and vanishing altogether from screens after three weeks.

Most Marvel films adhere to a certain formula, particularly when it comes to their origin stories. That said, you feel like some of that formula would have helped Max Steel to no end. If you sat down to watch the film and knew nothing at all about the toys or animated series, you would be hard-picked to guess that you were watching a superhero film. Stewart Hendler and co spend all their time on the origin story but so strip it of anything resembling superheroics it leaves you confused.

Ben Winchell in Max Steel (2016)
Ben Winchell in in the Max Steel power suit

All that we have is a film in which an average teenager for no reason we are ever given spends much of the show uncontrollably discharging energy from his body. Much of the early sections are taken up with the social embarrassment that this causes and Max’s not wanting to be found out. Figuring the limited potential of this as plot material, the film then introduces Steel, an alien device that speaks to Ben Winchell in a chirpy voice usually reserved for cartoon characters – making this only slightly less annoying an alien companion than The Suit in My Favorite Martian (1999), which one kept being reminded of the whole time.

Much of the film is taken up with Ben Winchell running around giving off random power blasts, accompanied the sagely advice of the annoying cartoon-voiced alien companion. Maybe about four-fifths of the way through the film, Winchell discovers that he can merge with Steel (Max + Steel = Max Steel geddit) as a power suit and voila we have a superhero film at last. The latter half is also taken up by a group of generic thugs pursuing Ben Winchell in cliche black SUVs. Andy Garcia, normally a fine actor but for some reason delivering his entire performance here through a hoarse voice, emerges from left field to become the villain of the show with extreme predictability.

Stewart Hendler had previously made two horror films with Whisper (2007) and Sorority Row (2009). He also worked directing web series with H+ (2011-3) and Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn (2012).

Trailer here

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