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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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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?
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?
- In theaters: August 24, 2018
- Cast: Alex Neustaedter, Becky G., Alex MacNicoll
- Director: Oliver Daly
- Studio: Global Road Entertainment
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Cats, Dogs, and Mice, Robots
- Character Strengths: Compassion
- Run time: 90 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: sci-fi action/peril, suggestive material, thematic elements and some language
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