A Wilmywood Glance at Mattel’s Max Steel

(Image Credits: David Pascua)


Sophia drives her blue, rag-top wagon through the packed lot as the sun barrels down.  Suddenly, Max races across her path on his bike.  She slams the brakes and watches him go flying through the bushes.  Sophia jumps out of her vehicle and runs to…


Sophia sees Max on the ground next to a tree.  She leans over him, her necklace dangling,  sparkling in the sunlight.


Someone leans over him.  His vision blurred.


“Oh my God!  Oh my God!  Are you okay?”

Still a daze, his eyes begin to focus.  It’s a girl.  A beautiful girl.


Ana Villafane is that beautiful girl starring as Sophia in the upcoming super-hero flick Max Steel.  But this isn’t your typical super-hero movie.  Our hero Max McGrath played by Ben Winchell isn’t coming from a dark past.  He doesn’t right wrongs based on vengeance.  He is unknowingly a superhero from birth and he is out to save his family rather than the world. Max Steel, has been an animated television series for some time now, however this will be the first time we see it come to life in live action on the big screen.


The story revolves around 16 year old Max McGrath who discovers he has a strange electric energy that radiates from him whenever his emotions get the best of him and now it’s getting out of hand. He can’t control them.  This doesn’t help as he is trying to fit in at another new school–where he finds himself attracted to the beautiful and unconventional Sofia (Ana Villafane) and develops a friendship with an old colleague of his dad’s, Dr. Miles Edwards (Andy Garcia).  Perhaps Miles can tell him what his mother Molly (Maria Bello) is unwilling to talk about– what really happened in the accident that killed his dad. As if that is not enough to have on a teenager’s shoulders, Max is most startled by the arrival of a small, crab-like alien named Steel, whose memory may be faulty but who knows one thing for certain: he’s there to protect Max, and he’s been sent by Max’s father.

MaxSteel050314_0076Producer Julia Pistor explains what made her choose Max Steel.

“I was drawn to the Max Steel story. I love super hero stories and I was really compelled by the story of Max and his father. He never knew his father and our film tells the origin of Max and how he connects with him. Not only does he (Max) learns that his father is an alien, but he really connects with him like a father and son. I’m drawn to stories that are family unification stories. I think that’s really important.”

MaxSteel050314_0235That she is.  Julia has a long history with family movies like The Spiderwick Chronicles, Charlotte’s Web and Lemony Snicket to name a few.

Producer Bill Dowd of Dolphin Films is also a fan of super hero movies and he wanted to make sure when Max’s story was told, it would be a film that the whole family would enjoy.

“I’ve been long time friends with Bill, so I know that he’s looking to make films that are a little more character driven and inspirational.” Julia says. “We loved the idea of making a movie that was a little bit outside of the system and a little more homegrown.”

Max Steel also isn’t the typical $100+ million action flick, either.  There will be more of an organic feel to this one which is quite refreshing.  And smart. They have already done quite well gaining pre-sales all over Europe and Southeast Asia, so it seems it should eliminate any financial fear and could possibly pave the way for a Max Steel 2 and who knows perhaps a Max Steel 3. That’s my own personal take on it however, nothing in confirmed along those lines.  The feature is penned by super-hero writer Christopher Yost (Thor: The MaxSteel050314_0218Dark World), directed by Stewart Hendler (H+) and the cast is top-notch. The two leads, Ben Winchell and Ana Villafane are both extremely talented up and coming young actors.  Even though they just met earlier this year, they already have an amazing connection with each other and it shows on screen.

“Ben and I actually met for the first time at the chemistry read. I guess we had chemistry, because here we are!” laughs Ana Villafane. “He is great. There is no wall that needed to break down. He is authentic and hasn’t been tainted. There was no facade or pretending to be ‘cool.’ He was himself from the beginning and we hit it off right away.”

andy_garciaBen Winchell mirrors those exact thoughts about Ana.  She too is the real deal.  The couple will be playing along side two of the most talented and prolific actors we know today.  Andy Garcia being one of them .

“Andy is perfect,” says Julia, “because he can play the warmest, most handsome father figure character, but as we all know from Ocean’s Eleven and The Godfather, he can play a cold and ruthless character. There are not a lot of actors with that range. We (the creative team) are huge Andy Garcia fans. We are excited to get him.”


Maria Bello is another. Her range is just as exceptional. From comedy to drama, she can do whatever comes her way.  This time, she plays off her motherly instincts as Max’s mom, Molly.

The film is being shot in Wilmington, NC which is a perfect fit as a location for their needs for such an organic, homegrown feature.

“We were planning production and all producers are drawn to places with tax incentives. We were going on a scout. We were going to go all over: Africa, Canada, Louisiana and Wilmington. Wilmington is the first place we went to on our scout. We got off the plane and went to the (Ideal) cement plant, we looked at houses for Max and we called LA and said, ‘We’re shooting it here.’ We didn’t evaluate any other place. Of course the tax incentives are fantastic! It’s so gorgeous here. The weather and the people are great. The locations are so diverse. The crew is so strong and experienced and so kind. It was just done.”

IdealCementThe Ideal Cement plant (also called the Roanoke Cement plant) has been transformed into Max Steel Headquarters and they expect a 17 day shoot for this location.  If you follow director Stewart Hendler (@stewarthendler) on Twitter, you have already seen what an incredible job the construction crew and set designers have done.  The plant closed many years ago, but it continues to be a favorite and prime location for many feature films and television shows including Iron Man 3Revolution, Under the Dome, as well as The Crow and even Super Mario Bros.

“My husband and I call each other nicknames from Mario Bros., Julia laughs.  “When I heard that Mario Bros was shot there, I thought, ‘This is fantastic!’ I tease him and call him Goomba. I feel like we should come here for our anniversary!”

Other locations include Hoggard High School, Downtown Wilmington and some private houses in Wilmington as well.

MaxSteel050314_0328Ana is definitely glad they chose Wilmington as the location and she actually fell in love with the town and she didn’t even know it. “I’ve seen Natalie Martinez’s (Under The Dome/ Secrets and Lies) photos on social media and she is paddle boarding and going to great little cafe’s. I figured she was sharing vacation photos from Puerto Rico or something. I get here and realize she was in Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach!”  There is so much space and it’s all lush and green. There is a very laid back feeling, but between the beach and the downtown nightlife it’s not boring. I’m really excited to explore.”

Expect to see Mattel’s first super hero flick in theaters in January, 2015.


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