The movie is about robot boxing. Not much else needs to be said.
Real Steel is everything the trailer promises it will be. This is both a good and bad thing. It’s good because going in you will know exactly what you’re in for. It’s bad because, well, have you seen the trailer? The movie is about robot boxing. Not much else needs to be said.
The film is set in a vaguely not-too-distant future where everything is exactly the same, except there are robot pugilists. Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is a former professional boxer who now scrapes together robots and enters them into regional matches in an effort to pay down the enormous debts that are always looming over him. After a particularly devastating loss to a bull at a rodeo (yes, you read that correctly), Charlie finds out that an old girlfriend has died and that their son, Max (Dakota Goyo), needs a legal guardian.
Through a convoluted and ridiculous exchange, Charlie agrees to take Max for the summer and then give him to his Aunt Debra (Hope Davis) in exchange for a large sum of money. The main focus of the film is the relationship that develops between Charlie and Max. Though Charlie is a total screw-up when it comes to "managing" robot fighters, Max, a video game enthusiast, has a natural ability and discovers a unique robot named Atom whom he trains to take on experienced fighters, even getting a shot at the worldwide champion.
Jackman, whose once promising post-Wolverine career is now only a distant memory, is as charismatic as ever but that only amplifies the fact that he doesn’t belong in this movie. His on-screen relationship with Goyo is actually quite touching, the young actor giving Jackman a run for his money when it comes to scene stealing. Not only is the young Goyo a confident actor, but he’s quite funny in fact and not too bad of a dancer.
Director Shawn Levy manages to stage the action rather well, both the individual fights and the training montages. The problem is there is no way to feel really connected to any of the characters. How far in the future are we? Why hasn’t any other technology really improved? These and other questions distract from the movie and only increase the gulf separating the audience and characters. This really isn’t a surprise coming from the director of Night at the Museum and Date Night.
The most disappointing aspect is the script and story that come from John Gatins (Hardball), Dan Gilroy (The Fall) and Jeremy Levin (The Notebook). Real Steel is essentially Rocky IV crossed with Over the Top: the smaller underdog faces a much larger (and much better) opponent while an estranged father and son form a tenuous relationship. What’s worse is we don’t even get Stallone as a consolation prize.
The movie is family-friendly, which is what Disney was clearly focused on; it just seems like a lot of money and effort was wasted on what will soon be forgotten and relegated to late night TV viewing only. | Matthew Newlin