Max Cloud (2020)

(aka, The Intergalactic Adventures of Max Cloud)

And once again, we have someone getting sucked into a videogame.

I’m not exactly grumbling here: after all, even though this is one of those tropes which goes all the way back to the Eighties and Tron, and which, in one form or another, has shown up in a lot of movies, like “The Bishop of Battle” segment of Nightmares; Brainscan, Arcade, and you might even include a few films which don’t quite involve videogames, like Jumanji and [spoiler] Boss Level.

In fact, Zathura is perhaps the closest movie you’ll find to Max Cloud, even if it is a retro tin board game that’s sucks them in.

…Although, come to think of it, Jumanji: The Next Level, in which the board game from the book and original movie respawned as a videogame, came out just the year before.

At any rate, a young girl, Sarah, gets sucked into the game Max Cloud, thanks to a guy she finds in a hidden room in the game who calls himself a “Space Witch.”

So this is probably a fantasy.

The film is set in the Nineties, for no other reason than to set it in the early days of console games, complete with eight-bit music and graphics which remind me a lot of the old Mortal Kombat arcade games.

The game features the adventures of a somewhat dim but heroic intergalactic hero played by Scott Adkins whose ship is damaged in a battle and crashes on a prison planet.

Scott has a little bit of a following among action and martial arts fans. He’s been the third guy on the team in films featuring some of the big stars, and has starred in a handful of minor films on his own. Unlike many of the other members of the action fraternity, however, he actually does a reasonably good job on the parts of his role that don’t involve hitting people, and makes Max Cloud comic without making him a total idiot.

I’ll confess I loved the way the film played off of its 8-bit nature: the reality inside the game is lush and over-colorful, whether we’re in Max’s wrecked spaceship or on an alien world. But, when we return to Sarah’s room, everything on the screen looks the way it would in an arcade game. The same thing happens to the film’s orchestral score, which similarly turns 8-bit. It’s a clever touch, and even gets used in a deliberately ironic cost saving way later on, when they are attacked by a giant monster and then a room full of St. Bernard-sized leeches.

Which, of course, we only ever see on the TV screen.

Of course, as this is meant to be a videogame, we get plenty of eccentric, broadly drawn characters, so broadly drawn that some of them go way past mere parody and threaten to turn into a total burlesque of videogame characters (particularly both Max and his enemy Revengor).

However, there is a very post-modern bent to all this, as the characters refuse to act the way we expect (in the game and out), there are plenty of weird little quirks, and the weakest character takes on Revengor at the end.

But for all the cleverness on display here, the plot suffers because there just isn’t enough of it and it is very linear — just like a Nineties arcade (or console) game. Our heroes are given a MacGuffin to chase, a quest to complete, and only one real surprise lurks along the way (well, other than what Max wanted to be before he became a famous intergalactic hero).

But it’s a pretty predictable one, at least as far as movies are concerned. I’m not sure that ever happened in any Mortal Kombat game.

Max Cloud is colorful and amusing, but its post-modernism is more smug than amusing and its story just isn’t big and complex enough to support all those impressive fight scenes (and, yes, Scott can fight. Even when he’s in a far too colorful blue and red suit).

Children may find this one far more entertaining than adults, although I’m not sure this one was really meant for kids, and it is on the whole likeable.

But it could have been so much better…

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