Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
A.X.L. Movie Poster Image
Parents recommend
Pro-STEM twist in often violent sci-fi boy-and-"dog" tale.
  • PG
  • 2018
  • 90 minutes

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 22 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 8 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Messages about the power of kindness, compassion, trust, and loyalty. STEM-based skills can have imaginative applications.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Some stereotypical characters (rich, white bully; Hispanic maid; villain of Middle Eastern descent), but film also has positive representation and diversity (interracial romance, black female Army captain who leads a battle ops research initiative). Miles is a soft-spoken, hard-working athlete with a high (but not endless) level of frustration tolerance. He compassionately helps a creature who seems to need help. Sara is a strong, self-assured, clear-headed graffiti artist capable of dealing with those who try to intimidate. That said, when money and gas are stolen on their behalf, Miles and Sara take it and flee the scene. They also lie to/withhold information from their parents.


A.X.L. is a robotic war machine that's coded to kill; it attacks several times, demonstrated by leaping through the air and menacingly snapping its circular saw-like teeth. Characters are frequently in peril and visibly distressed. Claw marks seen on a wall and a person. A.X.L. isn't alive, but it's incapacitated in torturous/distressing methods such as electrocution and fire. Quite a bit of mean behavior, including bullies sabotaging a motocross athlete, resulting in injury. While escaping peril, an off-road biker does a dangerous jump off a cliff and breaks bones in the crash that follows. Flamethrower used as a weapon of destruction; a character declares that "burn stuff and fight" is just what guys do. Guns and a crossbow are used or held as a threat, though infrequently, to force compliance by both bad and good guys. Spoiler alert: The ending is emotionally fraught.


Teen romance leads to some kissing and affectionate behavior. Female characters wear shirts that are snug, cropped, and low-cut. A teen chauvinistically implies that he has several girlfriends.


Characters who don't trust or like each other speak negatively of one another. "Crap" is said.


Motocross sponsorships are on constant display, true to reality. Brands include ALiAS MX, BTO Sports, Dunlop, Husqvarna, GUTS, Renthall, Snap-On, SPY, and Monster energy drink. Additional brands seen include Moto XXX, Dodge Ram trucks, and Alliance gas stations. GoPro cameras are used frequently and mentioned by name.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens attend parties, carry red Solo cups/hold cans, but it's never said/shown to be alcohol. The "wild" party (other than motocross stunts) consists of teens pulling at giant sandwiches, gnawing on enormous red licorice, and playing in a swimming pool.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A.X.L. is a sci-fi adventure about a teenager named Miles (Alex Neustaedter) and his advanced technology robot "war dog." The story is similar to E.T. in that a misunderstood creature is being used/abused for research purposes until an empathetic stranger risks everything to save it. Here, though, the risk isn't for a living being, but a battle-ready robot that's designed to kill. Violence is the main issue: A.X.L. attacks several times, characters are frequently in peril/distressed, and A.X.L. is incapacitated in upsetting ways like electrocution and fire. There's also mean behavior, dangerous stunts, and weapons use (flamethrower, guns, crossbow). Spoiler alert: The ending may also be distressing for sensitive viewers. While the story includes themes of compassion and friendship, characters also make iffy decisions and do things like accept stolen money and gas, and there's some stereotyping. There's a little teen romance that results in a couple of non-steamy kisses. Teens hold Solo cups and cans at a party, but it's never said that they're drinking alcohol. Language is limited to "crap." Note: The movie was originally rated PG-13, then edited to earn a PG rating.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 12-year-old Written byTeanna B. March 26, 2019

Transformers meets Mowgli meets Fast and Furious

Smarter than I expected from the trailers, this film is superficially a lot of vrooming engines, flying dirt bikes and girls trying to look cute. Underneath tha... Continue reading
Adult Written byWendyDomino March 25, 2019

I've seen this movie before.

To me this seemed like a remake of Monster Trucks, the 2016 movie which has almost exactly the same characters and plot.

It's completely unoriginal.

It... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old September 3, 2018

Often violent but very engrossing sci-fi movie

I went to see A.X.L. with my dad and sister, and all of us after watching the trailer were pretty excited to see it, and we thought it would be appropriate beca... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written bybigbearlucas August 2, 2020

Another cringe cliche

In terms of sexual, violent or criminal action, it’s all pretty tame. My 10 year old sister and I watched it and she thought it was boring. We loved the militar... Continue reading

What's the story?

In A.X.L., Miles (Alex Neustaedter) is a motocross racer who feels he doesn't have an aptitude to succeed at anything else. After a competitor sabotages his bike and abandons him in the middle of nowhere, Miles discovers A.X.L. (Attack, Exploration, Logistics), a runaway robotic dog that appears to have been mistreated. While Miles applies his mechanical knowledge to repair the dog, the two bond and develop a mutually protective relationship. But A.X.L. was built as a top-secret war weapon, computerized to kill anyone who threatens him or his companion. With both a menacing pack of bullies and a military unit out to get them, will Miles be able to keep the canine droid docile while also keeping both of them out of harm's way?

Is it any good?

Combining action, animals, extreme sports, robots, and special effects, this movie succeeds in delivering an appealing fantasy of a boy and his 21st-century "dog." The robot canine is the world's coolest gadget and an amazing pet, all in one. At first glance, A.X.L. is a charming film that elicits compassion for abused animals. But then the "wait ... what?" of it all kicks in. Thankfully, the dialogue addresses the doubts that may nag at the audience, such as, "Can you abuse a robot? What does that even mean?"

That said, the script isn't all that sharp, leaning on standard-issue characters. Pop singer Becky G. is believable as Miles' love interest, and Thomas Jane has an ease about him as Miles' supportive dad. But the standout is Alex MacNicoll, whose take on the clichéd rich-kid bully is so natural and unexpected that it's shocking when he pivots into teen tormenter. Setting a story in the environment of motocross sports does bring something fresh, and between the bike stunts and the illusion of an amazing mechanized dog, the film is an optical treat. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the compassion Miles shows to A.X.L. How is A.X.L. like a real dog? Is Miles' compassion well placed in trying to keep A.X.L. from harm? Is it possible to abuse a robot?

  • Did you notice any stereotyping in the movie? Do the characters take on traditional gender roles, or are there ways in which they defy expectations? 

  • How would you describe the violence in A.X.L.? Did it have more or less impact because much of it involved a robot dog rather than a living one?

  • In real life, what's the best way to react to an aggressive dog? How about a stray dog or an animal whose owner isn't present?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love sci-fi and dogs

Character Strengths

Find more movies that help kids build character.

Themes & Topics

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