If you’ve seen a trailer for Real Steel you’ve probably had a few thoughts about it involving Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots, Rocky and Hugh Jackman’s biceps. I’m here to tell you that pretty much every thought you had was right on the dot. Real Steal is Rocky with robots. I wouldn’t be surprised that if in sequels Jackman, his son and their robot have to fight a mohawk wearing, loud mouth robot and then in another have to fight for American pride against a Russian robot.
The great thing is that even though you’ve seen this story before, you haven’t seen it with giant robots and giant robots are awesome.
Director: Shawn Levy
Release Dates: October 7
Here’s the rundown: eight years in the future real boxing has fallen to the wayside (even more so than it has now) in favor of robot boxing. The appeal is obvious. Robot boxing allows for brutal fights with total annihilation with no worries about the death of a human (or ear biting). Charlie Kenton is an ex-boxer, down on his luck and desperatley trying to break into the robot boxing business. He’s also a deadbeat dad who hasn’t seen his son, Max (Dakota Goyo) in years, but after his son’s mother dies he gets stuck with the kid. The two then find a beat up robot in a junkyard and Max convinces Charlie to enter him in a fight. You pretty much know the rest of the story as every underdog film ever follows the same track.
So if it follows the same track as every other underdog film why is it good? For starters the aforementioned fighting robots are actually awesome. Direcotr Shawn Levy takes the “Rocky approach” to boxing fights (totally unrealistic and overly dramatic), but it works because the robots themselves are totally unrealistic and overly dramatic. Plus, that’s the type of boxing you want to see in a movie. Big punches and lots of action in the ring is far more exciting than two guys stumbling around a ring using strategy. Let’s forget the fact that these fights would most likely be over in about ten seconds in reality since steel hitting steel just leads to mangled steel. It’s robot boxing, reality got checked at the door along with jaded adulthood when you walked into the theater.
What’s more impressive is the temptations that the movie avoids. While it definitely goes full tilt into the adorable father done relationship, it actually doesn’t attempt to give the robots any actual soul. Instead of diving way into the deep end and going too smart for its own good Real Steel keeps the robots robots and the humans human. While it clearly personifies our little underdog robot, it does it smartly and never goes full tilt by giving it an actual “soul.” The doesn’t mean its hard to connect with the beat up underdog. Hell, it’s damn near impossible to not hate his invincible enemy in his final fight who is not only, bigger, shinier and evil looking but operated by an emotionless Russian billionaire and her Japanese assistant. If they hit anymore Hollywood evil person stereotypes they’d all be wearing Swastikas.
Again, though, Real Steel plays it stupid and wears its cliches proudly on its sleeve. It’s plotting does suffer a bit from this, however. Since it not only has to establish a science fiction world, but also has to be a sports movie. As such the plot jumps from small time boxing fights to the main event in no time and it definitely gets a rushed feeling by the end. Of course you forget about that as the final match gets going, but the way the story unfolds is a strange bit of unreality that doesn’t feel as acceptable as the rest of the film’s robot insanity.
And the ending pretty much reestablishes everything I’ve said in this review, especially the Rocky comparisons. I’m not meaning to spoil anything here, but if you don’t see it coming a mile away you clearly haven’t watched a sports film in the last 30 years. However, what Real Steel lacks in originality and plot it entirely makes up for in robots beating the crap out of each other. And while Dakota Goyo’s performance leaves a bit to be desired, especially at the end of the film, the charm of Hugh Jackman more than enough makes up for it. I should also mention the love story between Jackman and Evangaline Lilly — and now I have. That’s about as important to the film as it is.
Is Real Steel original, amazingly directed, acted wonderfully or something you’ve never seen? No. Is it fun? Definitely.