Animation Features Movies

Max Beyond

Director – Hasraf Dullul – 2024 – UK – Cert. 15 – 88m


Leon fails to rescue his adoptive brother Max from a corporate, experimental facility, so Max starts to move around the multiverse to find the world in which he succeeds – animated SF thriller is out on digital from Monday, April 22nd in the UK and Tuesday, April 23rd in the US

Facing very specific health challenges, eight-year-old Max (mo-cap/voice: Cade Tropeano) has been signed over to the Axion corporation and is living inside their high-tech, tower block complex where he is undergoing complicated, experimental, medical treatment under the supervision of Dr. Ava Johnson (mo-cap/voice: Jane Perry). Max’s elder brother Leon (mo-cap/voice: Dave Fennoy), a dishonourably discharged war veteran, is none too happy about this and, as protesters hold placards denouncing Axion outside the building, takes it upon himself to enter the premises, find his brother and rescue him from his oppressors, as he believes them to be.

Despite warnings from Dr. Ava over the intercom that there is no way out for Leon, he at first appears to be in control of the situation, a one-man army flooring all comers, but as his corporate security adversaries, culminating a sword-wielding man or robot (it’s never clear which) called The Sync, become increasingly impossible to defeat, it becomes clear that Ava’s predicted warning is accurate. Max seems to know what’s going on far better than his doomed brother, and issues him with similar warnings. After Leon has been defeated, Max shifts into another universe via a process referred to here as The Rift (which early in production was the title of the film).

Like Everything Everywhere All At Once (Daniels, 2022) and The Shift (Brock Heasley, 2023), this is a multiverse movie. Every time Max shifts, each world he finds himself in is subtly different from the last, yet each time Leon attempts to rescue him, he fails. And Max shifts again. Eventually, it emerges that Max is moving from universe to universe in search of the one in which his elder bother succeeds in rescuing him. Perhaps that world exists, perhaps it does not. Ava (a different Ava in each universe) thinks the latter, and starts introducing variables into the routine.

As in Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993), various characters and scenarios recur in the escape attempts: Connor Peters (mo-cap/voice: Wes Dalton) is the nurse who happens to be looking after Max at the time, and he becomes embroiled in ever-more complicated sub-plots of Leon’s attempted extraction of his brother.

Two dodgy government operatives, Kaneda (mo-cap/voice: Hiro Matsunaga) and Foster (mo-cap/voice: unknown), attempt to negotiate with Ava, later adding themselves to the numbers attempting to thwart Leon’s plan. Mass violence breaks out among the protesters, and repression by the forces of law and order is swift and brutal. Leon’s attempts to break Max out of the Axion complex seem to stand as a metaphor for something larger, an ideal of freedom from widespread oppression. We also meet their late mum (mo-cap/voice: Natalie Britton) and dad (mo-cap/voice: unknown) in flashback – Max was adopted – and they seem pretty decent types whose strong sense of moral values both brothers have, in their different ways, absorbed.

While the story and script are both highly original and arresting, and the voice acting and mo-cap performances striking, the animation is somewhat clunky with the lip-sync leaving much to be desired in places. How well the film would play on a big movie screen is anybody’s guess: I watched it on my computer, and, as such, it was fine. The characterisations and the narrative drive growing out of them is enough to trump such technical limitations – better that than the other way round! The film is apparently supposed to act as a teaser for a computer game currently in development; yet for this viewer, it works fine as a standalone feature.

The visuals are an eclectic mix derived from fairly obvious sources. There are glimpses of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner-style cityscapes, while much of the action feels lifted from The Matrix franchise (Larry and Andy Wachowski, 1999, and sequels), in particular a freeway chase involving an articulated tanker towards the end. Kaneda and Foster recall Breugel and Mahler, the two hit men from Max Headroom (TV pilot, 1987). The major source, though, including for the background cityscapes and tower blocks, is Akira (Katsuhiro Otomo, 1988).

If Max Beyond can’t compete with Otomo’s lavish animation, it’s happy to borrow experimental psychic children, a teddy bear, the image of a metropolis engulfed in a widening, white nuclear blast cloud, black and yellow diagonal stripes and even the name ‘Kaneda’. None of this does it any harm because, at the end of the day, Max Beyond’s fundamental story and characters are in themselves highly original.

Well worth seeking out, as much by SF or multiverse buffs as for anyone who likes the sound of the computer game.

Max Beyond is out on digital from Monday, April 22nd in the UK and Tuesday, April 23rd in the US.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *