If you’ve ever seen or played with Rock’em Sock’em Robots, Transformers, or anything from Japan, then you know that having robots fight each other is popular. Who’s to say that watching two CGI behemoths go at each other can’t be fun? Then again, I wouldn’t want to watch an hour and a half of Power Rangers prancing around in their Zords. This is where Real Steel comes in. The concept behind Real Steel is simple: smash two giant robots together. Is that really enough to thrill an audience for two hours?
Real Steel is set in the near future, where Robot Boxing has become one of the most watched sports in the nation. I feel ridiculous just typing that. Anyway, Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is a Trainer/Controller who’s a little down on his luck. After getting his first robot destroyed, he discovers that his ex-girlfriend has died and left his son, Max (Dakota Goyo), without a guardian. Charlie, not being the fatherly type, drives to the courthouse in order to sign away his son to his ex-girlfriend’s sister. Not to spoil too much, Charlie ends up with his son for the summer and drags him along to find a new robot and start fighting again. They spend some time with Charlie’s long-time love interest, Bailey (Evangeline Lilly), and discover an old sparring bot that might be able to make it to the top. Most of the movie focuses on Charlie and Max trying to take their sparring bot, Atom, from the scrapyard to ESPN. When I first walked out of the theater, I was afraid that they had rushed the main plot too much. Real Steel quickly moves from one plot point to the next, using montages to fill in the gaps. Still, I was able to sit through a two hour movie about robots fighting and not get bored once.
Surprisingly enough, the main cast has a decent chemistry and put on a good performance. Jackman and Lilly have a mostly believable screen chemistry and Goyo manages to avoid the pitfall of child actors in movies — being goddamn annoying. They each experience clear arcs and have interesting back stories to fill the dialogue between them, creating characters that you care about and want to see succeed. With no major complaints about the leads, I do have to say that many of the support characters fall short. Between over-the-top cowboys and screaming, hollering “punk” fighters, you’ll be glad to see scenes only starring a few characters.
For you action junkies, there are numerous exciting fight scenes and flashy action sequences. The fights flow well and the style of the fights change through the movie, starting with robot brawling in the beginning and finally moving towards actual robot boxing in the end. I was surprised that they chose to have the robots specifically box, instead of more bloodthirsty styles of competitive fighting, such as UFC. But, the boxing seems to work well with the fictional history of the film and the fights in Reel Steel actually reflect the art of boxing.
I hope you’re not lactose intolerant, because this movie will lay down some major cheese. There are endearing smiles, corny lines, and even some wacky fight humor. These frequent moments remind you that you’re seeing a family movie, but these cheesy moments don’t outshine the rest of the movie. The best thing Real Steel has going for it is its charm. It’s enough of an underdog story for you to get behind the father-son duo and really root for each hit their robot lands. Like the crowd at a real boxing match, the audience I saw Real Steel with was clapping and cheering during each fight Charlie and Max were in.
With Danny Elfman doing the score and a decent mix of up-beat, hard-hitting rap and electronica, the music in Real Steel successfully draws you into the environment. Thanks to the feel of the music, you’ll feel like you’re watching a sports movie, instead of some robo-popcorn flick. I wish that more mainstream summer movies would appreciate the value of music in their films.
Real Steel delivered much more than I was expecting, although I wasn’t expecting much at all. This film is a decent family flick that you and your kids can cheer through. So, sit back with your family and enjoy the Robot-Rocky tale. With some laughs, a few endearing moments and some heart, Real Steel overcomes the Hollywood cheese and shallow premise.
I give Real Steel 3.5 “Dr. Peppers” out of 5