I have a special sweet tooth for films that involve video gaming in their premise. So The Intergalactic Adventures of Max Cloud was a movie I really wanted to like. The film is basic enough: the self-professed hardcore gamer girl Sarah (Isabelle Allen) gets sucked into the titular video game by a Space Witch (Jason Maza). There, she assumes the avatar of Jake (Elliot Langridge) and meets Max Cloud (Scott Adkins), the cookie-cutter, action space hero whose vocabulary comprises of Stilton cheesy one-liners. Together with some other characters, they have to stop the evil bad guy/final boss Revengor (John Hannah) from…well, being evil? Max Cloud is a digital love letter to ’80s arcade gaming and shines bright in its parodying. However, the film’s writing leaves a lot to be desired.
Going into it, I want to commend Max Cloud on how aesthetically wonderful everything looks. Cloud’s ship is where we spend the majority of our time, and it has a goofy sci-fi charm. You can see the resemblance of it to its video game counterpart, complete with repeating hallways and garish colors. It’s a nice touch to cement the video game parody the film continuously tries to hit. Even the costumes, albeit minimalist, enhanced the charm and gave us characters ripped straight from an old SNES game. The game itself is beautifully created and looks like a real game that we never got. Also, Sarah’s bedroom is that classic ’80s room complete with the obligatory Karate Kid poster on the wall.
I really liked the video game parodying this film portrays. At one point, Max Cloud is doing battle with a “mini-boss” and every time he slightly hides, the boss loses all sight of him—a classic troupe to those who know stealth in video games. These parodies are far and few between and lacking in overall quantity, which is a shame when I was looking for more. And when it stops behaving like a game, Max Cloud turns into a wafer-thin experience that is easily buried amongst greater sci-fi romps.
Easily, the biggest mishap of this film is the script and story. The entire narrative lacks drive and any meaningful stakes. Upon reflection, you could say this is in keeping with the bare-bones stories that arcade gaming gave us back in the day. That’s fine to a point, however the story is pretty non-existent and doesn’t compliment the material well. Sarah gets sucked into the game via a Space Witch and this is never explained. I wanted to know about the Cockney space witch! This is just one of a plethora of examples of ill-crafted comedy. The script would have benefited from a firmer grasp of comedy that elevated the material to the next level. The only scraps of comedy come from our villain, Revengor, who’s played ridiculously and humorously by John Hannah. He’s given very little to work with, but his over-the-top performance was fitting for a final boss of evil.
The titular character Max Cloud was too generically written as well. I get it: the film is emulating the ’80s side-scrolling, beat-em-up genre, and the protagonists in those games don’t exactly exhume Naughty Dog levels of character depth. However, I do feel director Martin Owen should have taken inspiration from kitsch parody video game heroes such as Serious Sam or Duke Nukem. I wanted Cloud to be painfully cool and memorable; spitting out his own versions of “Let’s kick ass and chew bubblegum…”, but unfortunately he’s just uninteresting. And the film isn’t really about him, despite the title. It’s Sarah’s story. We do get a semblance of backstory about Max when we learn about his out of nowhere pastry dreams, but it’s random and does nothing to pin our intrigue. It’s a shame because Scott Adkins does the best he can with a character that could have been so much more.
I think Max Cloud will struggle to find an audience, which is a shame. I’m not even sure who it’s aimed for. On the one hand, the simplistic story and almost Power Ranger flavor from the fight scenes suggest something that can be enjoyed by small teens. Yet, its violence is graphic; with Cloud beheading people and stabbing enemies repeatedly with a knife. This tone is very confusing. I’m not sure I can even recommend it to people who are hardcore video gamers because it doesn’t go far enough with its genre.
I will say the soundtrack is gorgeous. I’m a sucker for chip-tune electronica, and these beats elevated scenes, particularly the fights; allowing the retro gaming feel to flourish. All the sound effects of the guns and swishing fists all reflected great work from the audio department and was probably my favorite aspect of the entire piece. That, and the fight scenes themselves were adequately put together and felt gamey in all the right ways.
Overall, I’m gutted this didn’t hit the right mark for me. When the story opened, I was excited to see the potential of a female-led, hardcore gamer protagonist. But this was robbed from me and the film went in a direction that was both safe and weak, in my opinion. I think Martin Owen did a satisfactory job, but the potential Max Cloud leaves behind is enormous. I would love to see him tackle this genre and style again with a more fine-toothed comb when it comes to the writing.
Max Cloud is released on 18 December.