If there’s one thing Big Hollywood knows, it’s that people love movies where robots kick the oil out of each other. Transformers films are raking it in, so it would stand to reason that other robot fight movies would follow.
Directed by Shawn Levy, Real Steel presents a near-future world where robots have replaced humans in the boxing ring. Hugh Jackman plays Charlie Kenton, a down-on-his-luck movie stereotype who promotes robot fights badly. He owes a lot of money, his robot is broken, and he has a son, Max (Dakota Goyo), he barely knows. Max winds up in his custody after his ex-wife dies.
So Real Steel wants to be a father-son bonding movie along with the whole robots beating each other up thing. Since Jackman’s character drives a big truck and is trying to get acquainted with his son, I was reminded of the father-son bonding/arm wrestling movie Over the Top. Over the Top is not a movie I wanted to be reminded of.
While rooting through some garbage looking for spare robot parts, Max finds a totally intact robot buried in the dirt. He fixes up the robot and starts teaching it to box and, regrettably, dance. A little bratty kid working on a robot reminds me of Jake Lloyd in The Phantom Menace putting together C-3PO. I don’t want to be reminded of Jake Lloyd in The Phantom Menace either.
The first robot dancing scene is when the movie started to really lose me. It totally looks like the Kia Gerbil commercial where the robots dance with the rodents. The robot dancing is MUCH BETTER in the Kia Gerbil commercial.
Charlie and Max eventually get their robot to a Robot Champion of the World fight. It’s hard to get emotionally invested in a battle of robots, so the film has the robot mimicking Charlie’s boxing moves just outside of the ring. This way, it’s really sort of Charlie fighting, and if Charlie were a character we gave a damn about, this would perhaps result in something slightly more exciting. Being that Charlie is a douche, this gimmick does not work.
Evangeline Lilly shows up as a repairer of robots who has a crush on Charlie. I found her participation in the movie distracting because she is so damned cute, and I just wanted to jump into the screen and pinch her cheek.
Kevin Durand appears as a rodeo promoter who likes to beat up Charlie. There’s also Hope Davis as Max’s aunt, who wants to adopt the boy but, chances are, will be in the crowd during the final fight scene rooting for the father-and-son team.
Jackman, an actor I usually like, should stick to his cool Australian accent. He talks with some strange accent in this film that makes him sound like he should be in a 1930s Chicago gangster movie. Why not make his character an Australian immigrant and call it a day.
On top of robots boxing for sport in big arenas, the movie has a subplot involving underground robot boxing circuits where unsavory types gather to bet money on robots no longer in their prime. I have a hard time buying a world, even a fantasy world, where the lower class can afford the upkeep on robots to keep them fighting. The voice activated remote control thing would set them back something like a billion dollars.
Now, if you made a future movie where crackheads dressed up like robots and slapped the shit out of each other for five bucks and a box of doughnuts, I’d see that as a more likely scenario.
Actually, that sounds like the plot of a great movie. I’m writing up a treatment as soon as I fire this review off to my editor.