Review: Real Steel

Posted: October 7, 2011 in Film Reviews
Tags: , , , , , ,

Hugh Jackman in a scene from Real SteelDespite the mechanical attributes often applied to Sylvester Stallone’s performance, Rocky was a film about a man fighting against the odds. It’s the textbook definition of an underdog story – most boxing movies are. As it turns out, if you replace the flesh and blood ring opponents with robots, as they do in Real Steel, you still get a poignant underdog story.

Charlie (Hugh Jackman) used to be a top-notch boxer, until the world banned the sport for its brutality. Unable to stay away from the excitement of a good match, he becomes a sort of manager for robot fighters – the only game left in town. Traveling the world, attempting to keep the dream alive, Charlie runs into an obstacle: the mother of the child he abandoned has died, making him the legal guardian of 12-year-old Max (Dakota Goyo). Determined not to be left behind, Max gets a robot of his own and becomes an international sensation.

The year in which the film takes place is unclear, except that it’s post-2016 and Eminem is still popular. Bits of robot fighting history are dropped occasionally, referring to the evolution of machines to the current generation of warrior, but nothing is clearly laid out. This isn’t a downfall however; it actually contributes to narrative’s ties to a “realistic” future. Moreover, the robots are not wholly unbelievable. They’re simply larger and more durable than the many robots being created today, such as ASIMO. Through high-tech remotes, a human is able to control a mechanical wrestler from outside the ring, much like operating a video game. If anything in the film is farfetched, it’s mankind’s abandonment of its blood lust.

The fights are entertaining and help maintain a steady pace for the two-plus-hour film. The arenas vary from World Robot Boxing-sanctioned, high-end bouts in large stadiums to ruleless throwdowns in a long abandoned zoo. The matches are more sophisticated than a Rock’em Sock’em Robots fight, mimicking moves from wrestling to boxing – though many competitions are still ended by knocking off an opponent’s head. The robots are immortalized rather than their operators, though there is recognition given outside of the ring by fellow promoters.

The humans’ story is still the primary focus. Jackman personifies this role. He is self-assured and athletic, owning any crowd into which he walks. Moreover, his cockiness oozes through his robots, often to their downfall. Toronto-born Goyo conveys the enthusiasm and commitment of a child given the chance to live his dream. He also displays some pretty nifty dance moves. Meanwhile, even though the robots do not have artificial intelligence, they appear to have emotions – particularly Max’s fighter, Atom.

Shawn Levy likes good characters combined with a little action, so this story was perfect for the Canadian director. It can be a little too cutesy at times, but the emotional attachment developed to both the people and machines is undeniable.

If you like a good underdog sports film, Real Steel will be a refreshing addition to the genre.

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