Real Steel – In Theatres Now
by Diane Ligman
Real Steel, based on a Richard Mattheson short story, directed by Night at the Museum’s Shawn Levy and starring Hugh Jackman is about a washed up boxer who had to hang up the gloves and pick up the remote when human competitors were replaced with robots because it fed the blood thirst of the audience better. Jackman’s Charlie now competes using robots as their handler but his impulsive and rash style coupled with horrible decision making has left him stunningly in debt and out of luck. Enter his long lost son Max, played by charming Dakota Goyo, whose mother has recently passed from cancer and whose Aunt and her incredibly wealthy husband (Hope Davis and James Rebhorn) want custody but due to plot points I won’t spoil, allows him to spend three months with his father to get to know each other. Together, with the help of his on again off again love Bailey, Evangaline Lilly, they dare to take a junkyard robot to the Real Steel Championship.
The robots look wonderful. When they use CGI it looks grounded and real. Frankly it looks like you can reach out and hug these robots. Or like they can pick you up and give you a piggy back ride. They do not try to give these robots too much depth of personality traits, such as voices or distinct facial features and expressions, so it really allows the audience to map their own love for their past toys on to these giant robots. In many ways, this gets the boy and his robot story so much better than Transformers ever did.
The violence is fun. Robots get ripped apart in this movie but not to bash on Transformers, it isn’t as creepy simply because we are not asked to believe that they are just like humans and therefore can feel everything. But what is actually more important is you can follow the fighting. The camera angles follow more of a conventional sports movie than they do an action movie so you see the blow by blow because it is part of the story, not just there to overwhelm your senses. This allows for a better overall experience of each fight in the movie and in turn makes it easier to swept up just like when you watch a real boxing or MMA match. Also, having Sugar Ray consult on the fighting probably helped a lot in making this look good.
Hugh Jackman is a blast in this movie. I can’t say it is his best performance or it was a meaty role, but he is in it to win it in every sense of that phrase. He is a loveable loser and a cranky old grouch and his interactions with the adorable Dakota Goyo is simply sweet. When we have been in the age of the man child in movies it is nice to see a throwback to the 80s “down on his luck, just doesn’t believe in himself yet” role and Hugh Jackman fills the shoes once worn by greats like Stallone admirably. What was a nice touch was that the happily ever after for the family was much more realistic than a magical transformation with the ride into the sunset.
Real Steel is cheesy. There were a few moments where they went to standard sports movie trope where they cut the music or go into a slow motion shot and it was hard not to laugh. Though it is understandable what they were aiming for at the end of the day it is still two robots fighting.
In addition the only part with Hugh Jackman that really felt flat was his relationship with Evangaline Lilly. The chemistry between them felt more like brother and sister than lovers who just never got it right. Since this is a pretty tame movie in the romance department it isn’t that important, but I do wish that role had just been played as more of that type of relationship than trying to make it romantic, it would have worked better.
I honestly don’t know of a child between six and fourteen who isn’t going to love this movie. The child that firmly resides inside me loves this movie. Even when the adult was writing the issues the child inside was saying “what about that one part when…”.
There is something fundamentally fun about watching robots beat the crap out of each other. There is something really fun about the idea of having a robot as a best friend. Real Steel understands that completely and delivers. It isn’t the best movie, but is good ride. You will cheer and you will have a favorite, if there is a kid still inside of you, it can’t be helped. And with the graphics it is well worth seeing on the big screen. So grab some popcorn and go see some robot on robot violence.