Going Turbo: A Love Letter To Max Steel


Max Steel was probably my favorite thing in existence when I was a little kid. Something about a youthful, superficially attractive white guy who just so happened to be an extreme sports star and secret agent just spoke to me, for some reason. I think it did for a lot of kids, actually. It was one of the hottest toy brands of the late 90's up through the early 2000's. There were countless variant toys, a long-running animated series, a DreamCast game, Halloween costumes and... a Carl Jr.'s cross-promotion.

Of course, they tried to get a movie off the ground, and it's been in development hell for years. So much so, in fact, that the movie is no longer trying to adapt the old toys, and instead, capitalizing on the atrocity that is the current reboot of the franchise. Oh well. Times change, I guess. I'll still go see it for old times' sake. Only... will I? Because right now, I'm not so sure that it's even happening.

But what is Max Steel, and why should you even care?

It's usually best to start at the beginning. So, in this case, we're going back to the 1970's, because the origins of Max Steel actually lie in a totally different series of Mattel toys. I'm talking about Big Jim, which I promise is not a vintage gay porn star. In all seriousness, this was a series of a toys that hit it pretty big when they started going head-to-head with GI Joe, back in 1972. So big, in fact, that Mattel kept cranking out the line until 1986. That may seem pretty insignificant, but think about that for a second. The 80's gave us Transformers, the new GI Joes, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Robotech. Big Jim somehow managed to hang in there for more than half of the decade, which is pretty impressive. Of course, the line ended up fading into total obscurity in the face of such big competition.

But in Latin America, Big Jim had a totally different identity, and was a much bigger hit. They knew him as Kid Acero, or "Kid Steel." See, Mattel put out the same toys in both markets, but they were packaged differently. In America, Big Jim was a plain-jane white guy who was noble and just and also a secret agent. He had a racial stereotype Native American friend, a token black guy because it was the 70's, and a clone of himself that had a beard (okay, not really, but it's the exact same figure with a beard.) In Latin America, "Big Jim" was "Kid Acero," a 19 year-old extreme sports star who also was white and was also a secret agent. Most of the roster was the same, just under different names and backstories, like Invisible Man, Bionic Man, and Doctor Drago. There were also comics, which had such lovable characters as a grandmother who was a boxing expert and a black man named Negro. I wish I was making this up.

Anyway, despite Big Jim and Kid Acero being marketed in totally different ways, they both suffered the same fate. Both were assimilated in to the "James Bond 007" line, even though they were still the same damn toys with no alterations, and sold off as toys related to the famous spy until the brand was axed altogether. It seemed like one (two, really,) of the best-selling toy brands ever were destined to be lost to the sands of time.

Until 1997...

Swag.

In 1997, Mattel decided to dust off all of their remaining Big Jim/Kid Acero stock and repurpose it for a new generation of kids with Max Steel. I'm not being hyperbolic. Most of the early Max Steel toys actually had the exact same outfits and gear as a lot of the 80's Jim/Acero toys. What I'm saying is that the original Max toys were kind of a mess, because it was a random mish-mash of military, sports and adventure gear, all slapped onto a beefcake in metal underwear. 

Yet another unrealistic standard of beauty. (source)
As most of us know, though, Max Steel eventually came into his own. In the late 90's through early 2000's, we saw more original variations on the guy, and even some new villains getting added. And honestly, the villains were actually really cool, and unlike anything else on the market, in my opinion. We got a guy whose face split apart and had a weird robot arm named Psycho, and a dude literally made out of snakes who went by Bio-Constrictor. No, really. He was made out of snakes, how metal is that? Anyway. The Max Steel line eventually turned into something really cool and special. I think so, at least. I'm biased, I think, because I pretty much had every stupid variation on the toy, and it's all I wanted when I went to Toys R' Us or KB Toys (RIP.) And if my friends had a birthday, you can bet your ass they were getting a Max Steel from me... so I could play with it eventually. The point I'm trying to make here is that I really, really liked these toys, alright? I even dressed up as Max Steel for Halloween one year.

But like all toys, kids grew out of Max Steel. And, despite a pretty popular TV series and two decent video games (one of which was cancelled even though it was finished and getting pretty good buzz,) so did the rest of America. Well, North America, anyway. Latin America, on the other hand, never got tired of the toys and, in fact, Mattel was still cranking them out up until around 2013. There were still new pieces of Max Steel animation getting released, sans his whole gimmick of "going turbo" after parents got really concerned that it encouraged steroid usage.


To be fair, it's not hard to see why...

Anyway. Max Steel was still raking it in up until two years ago. That's when Mattel decided Max Steel needed to be revamped not only for the Latin American audience, but for the rest of the world as well. This idea took us into the dark territory known as... uh, well, it's still just called Max Steel. But it wasn't anywhere close to what 90's kids grew up with. 


Oof. That dubstep. Rough. Well, hey, maybe the toys are-


O-Oh.

Look, I'm going to come right out and say it: I hate the new Max Steel. With every fiber of my being. I hate absolutely everything about it. From the new story to the lame toys to, well, everything, I just think it sort of spits in the face of what the toys originally were all about. The original had it all to me: extreme sports, cool villains, an elaborate love story, awesome vehicles, and, most importantly, some of the coolest action figures out there. Now, we get a Ben 10 ripoff of a hero who doesn't even know how to drive and lives with his mom. I'm sure to modern kids, he's much easier to relate to, but I think that's what was always cool about Max Steel: you didn't relate to him, you aspire to be him. Big difference, and one that makes me really resent this new stuff. Or maybe I'm just bitter, old, and hate change. Take your pick.

I was really happy, though, when I first found out Paramount was working on a Max Steel movie back in 2009. This, of course, was when the whole "make a movie based on a toy" thing was all the rage. But soon thereafter, that bubble burst. I blame Battleship, personally, because fuck, that movie was fucking bad. Regardless, Paramount sort of just kicked the whole Max Steel project to the curb, leaving it to be picked up by somebody else. And, when the reboot hit the airwaves, you can bet somebody did just that.

Enter Open Road Films, a film distributor run jointly by AMC and Regal. You know. The people who run movie theaters. They snagged the writer of Thor: The Dark World (aka the second-worst Marvel Cinematic Universe entry thanks to Captain America being garbage) and a director of beer commercials and slasher films, then opted to adapt the new series. Sounds like a surefire recipe for a summer blockbuster, right? Right? 

My feelings on that.
We'll be able to see how it all turns out soon, though, because Max Steel hits theaters on... wait, August 18th, 2015? As, almost a month from now, August 18th, 2015?

Yes, apparently, this, uh, bold and, um, innovative new take on the franchise is coming out a month from the time of this writing. Which might not seem weird on paper, but think about it for a moment. We've only seen production stills from this movie so far, and that was over a year ago at this point. There's no trailer, no commercials, no... well, there's nothing. Open Road hasn't promoted this movie one bit.

This says one of two things to me. The first is that Max Steel isn't going to hit theaters in August, and needs more time in production until it's fit for release. The second? Max Steel is a trainwreck of a movie that Open Road doesn't want to promote on the heels of their last few releases, which have been received relatively well, and risk emphasizing their involvement in something that they know is going to suck. Either way, I guess we'll know come August 18th. I mean, hey, I could be totally wrong. The director's two horror flicks were actually pretty good, so maybe it'll be the surprise hit of the year. 

Doubt it, though.

Sorry, Max.
What's the takeaway from all this, though? My overarching point after rambling about a second-rate toy line from the 90's? Well, I guess two things: I love these toys and, to be honest, I'm feeling a bit old lately. 

See, personally, I've just always been of the opinion that Max Steel deserved more love than it got here, and I wish it'd never gone away here. Action figures come and go, and I get that. But this was a series that came and then just rapidly burned out everywhere but Latin America, leaving me to face the cold reality that nothing lasts and everything fades away in the end. That's bleak, I know, but when I was a kid, Max Steel was everything to me. It's not every day that you see an extreme sports star/secret agent who's fueled by nanomachines in his blood, after all, and he was leagues more interesting than Action Man and the shitty revamps of GI Joe that Hasbro cranked out. Okay, though, to be fair, Action Man was kind of legit. He also got a decent CG show and a surprisingly great Game Boy Color game. Man. At least his Game Boy Color game actually got released.

I digress. Max Steel was a series of toys that resonated with me on a personal level, and plus, were just damn fun to play with. There were so many awesome variations on the base figure, some really novel rivals, and, of course, countless expensive playsets that I begged any nearby adult for. And, most importantly, it was all sold in shades of grey and blue, so I knew that it was a boy's toy. Woo, gendered marketing!

Those were the day, really. Being so enthralled by a series of cheesy action figures and not having many other cares in the world (well, outside of Pokemon, but everybody else on the internet loves waxing nostalgic about that.) To me, Max Steel is sort of a reminder of how simple life was in those days, before puberty, college, and the inevitable reality of having to get a "real job." It helps me remember that all it took to make me happy, back then, were mass produced pieces of colorful plastic that I could play with.

Things sure are different now.
And even though I hate the new Max Steel with a passion, if it can give the same feeling of pure escapism to a new generation of kids, well... I guess old Max is still going his job.






Comments

  1. Hi, I'm so glad I found your post. I must say your last line almost made me cry "(...) I guess old Max is still going his job." Wow. He is (but let's be realistic, not for long).

    I wanna thank you for telling Max's origin with such a charm, I never really knew from where he came and in just a few lines I found out. Thank you so much.

    I have to say I'm still a huge fan of Max Steel, though I've never seen the reboot. I just can't, it's so weird.
    I totally understand the way you feel, because so do I. Max Steel keeps warm my best memories, and brings me back to them. And it isn't just because I watched it when I was a child, the story is so good. I guess you know them, I mean, how do you forget about Elementor, for example? I'm really a huge fan, and I'm glad this feeling is shared by someone in the U.S., someone who didn't get the chance to follow the line the way I did. (Yes, I'm Latin American).

    I come here to thank you, to tell you I loved your post, and to invite to watch (or rewatch) Max Steel movies and series, you can find some of them in YT and Dailymotion. Here you can find N-tek Adventures (in English!) https://www.youtube.com/user/MaxSteelEN/videos
    I also wanna invite you to visit my blog, Max Steel Museo, and other really good blogs linked there; our purpose is to keep Max Steel alive. So if you ever want to remember or talk about, there I am.

    Greetings.

    Goin' Turbo!

    ReplyDelete

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