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'Max Beyond' Review: Mediocre Animation Plagues A Brilliant Science Fiction Story

Courtesy of HaZimation

Harnessing the power of Unreal Engine, HaZimation’s first feature film is a chaotic amalgamation of many different cinematic trends. The hour and a half story not only explores the multiverse in its own way (better than Marvel at the moment), but also mixes 1992’s Groundhog Day looping theme with martial arts and gunplay that is usually seen in titles like 1999’s The Matrix or 2003’s Bulletproof Monk. Just by watching the movie one time, you can see that there was a surprising level of dedication taken with the script (dialogue isn’t watered down for science fiction novices), by the voice cast (all the characters are not only seen but genuinely heard) and when it comes to the digital choreography (the fight scenes impress more than they ought to). Hasraf Dulull’s newest movie about the traversing multiple dimensions undoubtedly suffers from the most painful of flaws - when Max Beyond slows down and the audience has to focus on the character models - an uncanny valley emerges which automatically rips the viewer away from the stakes being presented.


            Being discreetly held hostage by Axion (a government funded research facility that wants to take advantage of his powers), the audience first meets young Max already traversing different realities trying to find the specific one where his older brother named Leon actually saves him from this dire place. Alongside writers Stavros Pamballis and Paula Crickard, Dulull really made the right choice when he decided that one of these failed rescue missions should be the introduction to Max Beyond. Without knowing the synopsis beforehand, the supposed hero’s death so early on really grabs the attention of the viewer. Another early observation that makes this animated thriller unique is the mixing of cel-shaded explosions with the otherwise standard, 3d that is consistent with the Unreal engine. The juxtaposition of these two styles makes the action more meaningful as these specific scenes pop out and become more memorable.


            Speaking of the run and gun element at play in Max Beyond (that is Leon desperately trying to break Max out of this high-rise test lab), there is never an alternate reality shown to the audience that bores or delivers a low point for the movie. As said in the beginning of this review, Max’s multiversal travel comes with a price: with every timeline he travels to, he gets weaker and Leon’s overall life becomes that much more detrimental. Once a marine, Leon ends up carless, addicted to drugs and violent with his actions. This science fiction based fallacy surely adds an extra layer to the stakes in Max Beyond that is missing from the House of Mouse’s take. But don’t go thinking that this growing weakness is a detriment to the ongoing heroic acts from our protagonists - quite the opposite. It helps to show how determined they are, even in the face of repeated danger.


Is it safe to assume that this consistent suspense that never lets up comes from Mr. Yariv Lerner, one of the three executive producers on the film? His work includes 2019’s Rambo: Last Blood and  2017’s The Hitman’s Bodyguard. While trying to save Max, Leon’s exploits see the older brother taking a leap of faith to try and jump onto a helicopter (and getting stabbed in the process), holding onto a tanker truck for dear life (right before it’s about to explode) and fighting against sword wielding red cyborgs in a hallway scene that is oddly reminiscent of 2003’s Oldboy. While showing off some possibilities that could have leaned into outright comedy at times (with specific side characters or cannon fodder antagonists), the script is also intelligent enough to never deviate from a more serious tone either. There is always a fine line to tread when speaking about child experimentation and Dulull and the rest of the team at Max Beyond handle it well. To offset this triggering topic, more and more characters throughout the movie consistently help Max in some way to give him a fighting chance.


            As Max Beyond is also set to be a video game which will be released on Xbox Series consoles and PC sometime in the future, it only makes sense that the voice cast have a wide range of experience in that medium of entertainment as well. Voicing Leon, Dave Fennoy has worked on Sony’s newest Spider-Man games, Marvel’s Avengers and Telltale’s The Walking Dead (besides over 200 other works in the live action, animated and game fields). He brings a severity to Leon which, in turn, reaches for your emotions and never lets go. Giving life to Ava Johnson (Max’s doctor), Jane Perry is a BAFTA award winning actress who’s had roles in Cyberpunk 2077, Baldur’s Gate III and Hitman III (along with castings in film, TV and theater.) She gently plays a woman who finds herself caught between two worlds and Perry brings that conflict to your ears. Among the other names casted in Max Beyond, we cannot forget about Cade Tropeano who brings forth Max Walker himself. Tropeano is a super talented individual who does what he can with what he’s given to pull people into this troubling, almost dystopian world. Thanks to him, Max’s story is sad but inspirational at the same time.


Without any question, the production, the script and the cast help bring Max Beyond to a plane of authenticity which I think a lot of people are going to appreciate. But we cannot ignore the one problem that will consistently try to pull those same viewers out of the experience - the stunted and unaligned vibrancy that comes with the computer generated characters. The facial features, reactions and constructions of Leon, Max and Ava (and the rest of the characters) are not up to par with the rest of this well built world.


Some have already commented that this was done on purpose in some sort of homage to 1994’s Reboot series (which was all done in CGI) but that is a bandage of an excuse considering that that show was made thirty years ago and a more sophisticated 3D creation tool (Unreal Engine) was implemented for this 3D animated feature. Even if it meant some delays were to be had or more time would have to be spent at the drawing board to recalibrate everything, that route should have been taken instead of letting such a fatal mistake stand above the rest of Max Beyond’s ultimate worth. Even I, who was very much pulled in by this intimate story about one’s multiversal journey to save the ones he loved - was always forced to take one step back because of this miscalculation in the visuals.


With everything taken into account, I will give Max Beyond a 3 / 5.


Max Beyond will be available on Digital Download in the UK from April 22nd and US from April 23rd.







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