Anyone who’s endulged in sci-fi fandom in the last sixty or seventy years will be able to construe what director Martin Owen goes for with his latest endeavor, Max Cloud. The first look stills of the past year were enough to lend something of an idea as to the aesthetic, and the headlining addition of actor Scott Adkins does lend something to look forward to. Certainly, it’s a different kind of film for the relatively well-known martial arts star famously known for his more brooding performances in the Undisputed franchise and Jesse Johnson’s Avengement among other hits.
Max Cloud reteams Owen with actress Sally Collet (Twist) who also co-stars, and with whom Owen penned the script. The opening title font, coloring, retrowave-style opening score by Liam and Steve McMellon, and characterization overall give leeway to the notion that the filmmakers took a page or two from Edgar Wright or even Taika Waititi and writers of the Thor franchise; Visuals are a mix of practical effects and CG with vivid myriads of color as the film dives into deep space where titular hero Max (Adkins) and lowly chef Jake (Elliot James Langridge) have crashlanded on the desolate planet, Heinous.
While Max and Jake assess the ship’s condition, we meet New York City teenager, Sarah (Isabelle Allen), as she efforts the usual escape from reality via her Max Cloud video gameplay, barring the occasional talk with Cowboy (Franz Drameh). Just as Max hits an impasse with the Space Witch (Jason Raza) behind a hidden door, Sarah is confronted by her overbearing father who takes her game control away, leaving Sarah bereft with grief when all of a sudden, she’s inexplicably pulled into the world of the video game she’s playing, digitized into Jake’s body.
Just minutes into her 16-bit rapture with her father out and about, Sarah’s best friend, Cowboy (Franz Drameh), drops by only to discover the seemingly impossible, albeit inevitable. As it stands, Sarah has only one life remaining as Jake and there’s no pausing, and with her father out and about, it’s up to Cowboy to work the controls and navigate Max Cloud’s terrain as a team, crossing paths with shipmate Rexy (Collet) and a shifty bounty hunter named Brock (Tommy Flanagan), while battling evil fugitive sorceress, Shee (Lashana Lynch) in the moments leading to the boss battle with Heinous’s scheming decrepit warlord, Revengor (John Hannah), bent on destroying Earth to right the wrongs done to him.
Max Cloud works entirely well from a conceptual standpoint as it’s something that’s been revisited on several occasions over the years, be it with cult sci-fi, Tron or the animated Captain N: The Game Master to name a few. Set pieces and visual effects are designed accordingly to emulate a more bygone period of sci-fi and fantasy – in this case, the film is set in 1990, and so everything mostly from the costumes and set design to the music, hair and even some of the performances are all generally suitable and don’t really bite in terms of presentation.
Adkins’s Max leads the charge as the intergalatic legend of his own story, carrying on with as much grandeur and hilarity as one can look to endulge. A kickboxing, pugilistic cross between Chris Hemsworth’s “Thor” and David Graf’s “Eugene Tackleberry”, the only time he’s really vulnerable and not kicking ass or putting on airs is during one moment when he’s with Rexy flashing back to his childhood.
Encompassing the forefront of the main story though is Sarah’s journey in Jake’s digital self – an underdog character who Max doesn’t eveb notice despite Jake serving him several times a day. The Jake that Max and Rexy know is still noticeably flappable and uneasy, unknowingly coupled with Sarah’s conscience as she tries to cope with the video game world around her and the possibility of staying trapped if she and Cowboy can’t beat the game. Admirably, not only is Jake, through Sarah and Cowboy, suddenly able to take on the alien henchmen next to Max, he’s also apt to provide background character info and other factoids that could help Max and their small team survive Revengor’s henchmen, who’ve all but swarmed Max’s ship.
Some of the writing can be more touch-and-go than anything. Enjoying Max’s peacocking hero antics and bravado does come with a few caveats, depending on how you receive the exchange between him and the Space Witch, while Cowboy’s penchant for routinely engorging himself with hotdogs does little in its endorsement of him as a potential love interest for Sarah.
At least one overly long scene where Cowboy gets a little too handsy with Sarah’s father (played by Sam Hazeldine) begs asking just who allowed that much cringe into the most crucial part of the film. Hannah’s Revengor and Lynch’s Shee tend to bounce back and forth nicely on screen, and you especially have to give it to Hannah for making do with what he was given he’s resigned to a cavernous dungeon-like fortress, and apart from hamming it up as the villain there really isn’t much for his character to do until the finale.
The action takes on all comers with fight coordination and direction by Jackie Chan Stunt Team progeny Andy Long Nguyen who sets the stage here with his own team, from fisticuffs to epic blaster and beam battles. Max effortlessly lays waste to Revengor’s footsoliders which he also uses to seal the hole in his ship by blasting them into goo, and delivers the goods alongside Collet and Langridge in a few slickly-shot “oners”.
The action also sees Adkins joined by Boyka: Undisputed and Accident Man on-screen cohort, Martyn Ford in a preliminary boss battle with Ford as a viking. Boyka fanatics needn’t expect this or any of the action here to be of the same caliber, so if you’re keen on what Owens is aiming for, you’ll enjoy it a hell of a lot more, right down to the fighting game-style fight finale which essentially puts Sarah/Jake at the controls of their own moves and health bar.
The best thing about Max Cloud, really, is that Adkins knows exactly the kind of film he’s in, and therefore knows exactly how to milk it on screen and have fun with the character. His performance aptly suits a family-fun sci-fi adventure here that brims with cheese and spectacle, and while imperfect on some of his characterization and delivery at times, oddly manages to be way better than…well…this shameless money-grab.
All in all, Max Cloud is a fun watch for the whole family. It’s vibrantly colored and designed with enough throwback flair to warrant a rewatch of The Wizard or even The Neverending Story films if you see fit, and it might even be appetizing enough to stir sequel interest. One condition thusfar, save for the cool action delivered by the team involved here, would be to employ better, less cringy comedy writing.
Max Cloud arrives on Digital beginning December 18, and on Blu-Ray and DVD from January 19.