"Real Steel should have been at the very least a light-hearted sci-fi action drama. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a pointless exercise in juvenile wish fulfillment and an unsophisticated emotional manipulation machination."
Drama, Action and Science Fiction
Starring - Hugh Jackman/Charlie Kenton, Anthony Mackie/Finn, Dakota Goyo/Max, Evangeline Lilly/Bailey Tallet, Kevin Durand/Ricky and Hope Davis/Aunt Debra
Director – Shawn Levy
Writers - John Gatins, Shawn Levy and Richard Mathis
PG-13 - for some violence, intense action and brief language
2 hr., 6 min.
While I wasn’t completely fascinated by the premise of Real Steal, the combination of the exciting trailers, the appeal of the always enjoyable Huge Jackman and the mostly good reviews made me want to rent this film as soon as possible. Unfortunately, I should have used my time more wisely and rented something with a little more substance, because Real Steal was underwhelming and overemotional.
Real Steal takes place in the near-future, where robots have taken the place of humans in the sport of boxing. Charlie Kenton is a former fighter who now makes a living controlling these robots in freelance matches all across America. After losing yet another match and another robot, Charlie needs cash to buy a new robot, so that he can win enough money to pay off his increasingly violent creditors. Charlie receives a court summons forcing him to travel to New York to release custody of his 11 year-old-son Max by a former girl-friend, who he has never met, to her rich sister and husband. Seeing a way of financing his next robot, Charlie cons fifty grand out of the husband before signing over the boy. However, before they take custody of Max, Charlie must take care of Max for the summer, while the rich couple vacation in Europe.
Charlie uses his money to buy a former “champ” bot and is about to leave Max behind, but the stubborn Max insists on coming along to the fight. Charlie gets a headline fight, but his cockiness in the bout costs him both the bot and a beating at the hands of his creditors. Looking to steal spare parts to fix his robot, Charlie and Max break into a junk yard and accidentally stumble on an abandoned sparing robot, which Max insists on bringing back with them to repair. With the help of Charlie’s girlfriend Bailey, they repair the old sparing robot, which Max dubs Atom. While Charlie is off trying to find the parts to fix his damaged champion bot, Max uses the vocal command parts from it to control Atom. Soon, Max has Atom up and running and discovers that Atom has a shadow program built into it that allows it to mimic the moves of its controller. Max insists that Charlie enter Atom in a fight, so Charlie reluctantly allows Max a local bout and much to his surprise, Atom and Charlie win the match. Soon, Max and Charlie are wining fights all around the country, eventually earning a chance at the professional circuit and a match with the champ Zeus!
Real Steel is not even remotely believable as science fiction, because the near future depicted in the film looks identical to our present; only with the addition of giant fighting robots. While much of the film is dedicated to demonstrating the physical dynamics of the robots and how their controllers are partnered with them, there is no consistency in the level of technology that is used even at the professional level.
What the film attempts to do is fill the void of futuristic world building with emotional gravitas. We’re supposed to care enough about the father and son relationship, so that we’ll not only overlook the technological incongruities, but the fabricated plot furthering devices as well. That is the major problem I had with Real Steel: I did not like either Charlie or Max as characters and I never once believed in the contrivance of their bonding in the film. Part of the problem with Charlie’s character is that for most of the first third of the film, Charlie is portrayed as a self-centered, irresponsible lummox, who’s only goal in life seems to be to get another robot to enter into a fight. He sells off his own child to pay for a robot and later we’re supposed to shrug this off with a laugh after Charlie and Max suddenly hit it off upon finding a common goal with Max’ bot Atom. Max is also extremely unlikeable; being nearly as self-centered and pig-headed as his estranged father! Why we’re supposed to suddenly like these two characters just because they both share the same selfish ambitions to become successful at robot fighting is beyond me.
The only real positive to Real Steel is the fighting robot sequences. The combination of animatronics and digital animation is nearly flawless. Unfortunately, the choreography of the fights themselves was not very inventive, so a lot of the work that went into making the robots realistic looking was wasted on unimaginative matches.
Real Steel should have been at the very least a light-hearted sci-fi action drama. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a pointless exercise in juvenile wish fulfillment and an unsophisticated emotional manipulation machination.
TECHNICAL: Acting – 7 Directing – 7 Cinematography – 8 Script – 6 Special effects – 9
VISCERAL: Visual – 9 Auditory – 7 Intellectual – 5 Emotional – 6 Involvement – 7
TOTAL RATING: 71