14 Oct 2011

Real Steel Movie Review

There have been a lot of sports movies released this fall, and though it has an interesting science fiction aspect, Real Steel is really just another one. While kids will love the action, the movie’s devotion to sports clich├ęs won’t impress their parents.

It’s the year 2020, and the sport of boxing has changed. Fight fans are no longer impressed by human pugilism – there’s not enough violence and destruction – and have moved on to robot boxing. Giant humanoid robots with super-strength and names like Ambush and Noisy Boy are now the main attraction. Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman), an ex-boxer himself, now makes a living wheeling, dealing and battling on the underground fight circuit. Unfortunately, he’s not a great robot fighter, and he’s constantly running from the debts amassed from his losses.

Then his 11-year-old son from a previous relationship arrives. Max’s (Dakota Goyo) mother has just died, and her sister is ready to adopt him, but only if Charlie signs away the parental rights. Charlie is happy to do so, especially when he negotiates a quick score to look after Max for the summer while the boy’s new parents enjoy a vacation alone. Charlie and Max have zero relationship, and Max is even less happy to be there when he realizes his father has sold him out.

But Max is a robot boxing fan, and it isn’t long before he’s travelling to fights with his dad, where he gets caught up in the excitement. And when he finds a discarded sparring robot in a scrapyard, he demands the chance to take it into the ring. Reluctant at first, Charlie begins to see something in the robot, and in his son, as they eventually work their way into the legitimate boxing league, and beyond.

Jackman has described the movie as “Rocky meets Transformers“, and that’s a reasonable description. The sparring bot, Atom, is a huge underdog, built to be pounded on by larger robots. In many ways, the boxing action resembles Rocky‘s. But make no mistake – these aren’t intelligent robots. They’re completely remote-controlled, which helpfully preserves some of the human element in the action. We get lots of close-ups on Atom’s face, meant to make us wonder if in fact there is some spark of self-awareness, something that drives the robot from within, but we don’t really believe it. And frankly, the movie would just be silly if there was.

Jackman struggles to find a consistent tone for Charlie. Overall, he’s a relatively weak character, and we don’t get much sense of the mental toughness it takes to be a boxer. Goyo is far better as Max, showing us a street-smart toughness without completely burying the 11-year-old within. Evangeline Lilly is also good as Charlie’s mechanic and girlfriend. Karl Yune and Olga Fonda, as the engineer and owner of world champ robot Zeus, are meant to be villains, but they both spend too much time scowling to be taken seriously.

The main problem with Real Steel is the plot, which feels remarkably formulaic for a movie with such an interesting concept. In the end, the robot angle is window dressing on a father-son bonding session and predictable sports story.

No comments:

Post a Comment