Real Steel

3 Nov

Title: Real Steel
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Shawn Levy
Writer: John Gatins, with a story by Dan Gilroy and Jeremy Leven
Starring: 
Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lilly, Anthony Mackie, Kevin Durand, Hope Davis
MPAA Rating: 
PG-13, some violence, intense action and brief language
Runtime: 
127 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
7.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 
59%

 

I was full-on prepared to start kicking Real Steel around and to trash it a bit, the premise was just begging me to do so; this is, after all, a movie about the technological advances of a near future when boxing is now done by robots. A movie with a premise like that would suggest I would most certainly be  degrading it upon reviewing it, and yet I found myself enjoying Real Steel, because it’s just remarkably well-made, and the action sequences really are fantastic to watch and, what’s best, is that there is some actual character development here, not an awful lot because this is still a $110 million-budgeted Hollywood movie, but still, there’s enough of it to make us care for the character and elevate the film from the usual fluff fare like it we usually get. And that’s really how it balanced out, the script is unbelievably corny, but the fight sequences are really well executed, so that balances it out, and when you add the fact that the cast makes the characters and story work you find yourself thinking this is a film you can honestly recommend to people.

The real trouble that I thought was going to do Real Steel in when I first approached it was the fact that it was really aiming to have something for absolutely everyone and become a real crowd-pleaser. That’s really hard to achieve, when instead of going after your core audience you try to get about four or five different ones into getting to see and loving your film, so we got a film that in essence was combining the qualities of films like E.T. and Rocky, as well as the Transformers factor of robots being super popular, and the fact that worldwide audiences know and love Hugh Jackman from his turn as Wolverine and they have devoured the Night at the Museum films made by Shawn Levy. So yeah, this one apparently had a ready-made recipe for success, but I was really surprised that it worked this well, combining the classic story of an underdog, as well as a father-son bonding experience with that of battling robots.

That father I’m talking about is Charlie Kenton, Mr. Jackman’s character, a former fighter himself who never really made it big and now lives as a small-time promoter who has a battered old robot he tours with to make a buck. And you know that it’ll be a classic rags-to-riches story designed to really tug at your heartstrings, and what I thought was really awesome is that the robots just looked plain cool, the design and overall look of them just really added to my reaction to those fights. But, great aesthetic aside, what really made Real Steel work was the fact that it looked real, I mean, you look at the Transformers films with the billion-dollar box-office takes and their explosion-a-minute ratio and they all look like random metal robots just clumsily clashing into each other, rapidly edited to try and make it seem cool. But in Real Steel it actually looks cool, because these fighting robots look awesome and you could tell that a lot of thought was put into the choreography of its fights, with Sugar Ray Leonard acting as an advisor for these bits, and it looks like a real boxing bout and you can actually invest in the action sequences, I really appreciated that.

The fact that the fights look real doesn’t mean that Real Steel is a logical film because there’s still a lot here that isn’t explained and that’s okay, it’s okay because a) This isn’t the kind of film that would do so anyways and you go into it knowing that, and b) It’s okay because at least there’s some heart here, which is what sets it apart from the Transformers movies. And that heart comes in the form of Charlie’s son, Max, who’s one of those smart pre-teens who knows it all and who has a really crappy relationship with his dad who has pretty much ignored him all of his life. And Mr. Jackman is good at playing this kind of mean, uninterested parent to a kid who will be taken care of by Charlie’s sister but that first has to spend a summer with his dad.

So you know what will happen next, Charlie and Max will bond over that summer, as Max is just really good with technology and knows a lot about robots and then one day at a robot junkyard he discovers an old robot who he convinces his dad still has a lot of fighting left in ham. And so father and son work on that robot, named Atom, with Charlie teaching the robot the moves he knew from when he was a boxer. And of course it will all lead to that one climatic final battle with a robot named Zeus, and that fight is actual awesome and you’ll get really sucked into its narrative drive as you would in any fight involving humans, and that’s because it’s just super easy to love Atom, which really made this film stand out from its contemporaries, you actually got to care about the robot here.

And that’s why I will go ahead and really recommend Real Steel to you readers of mine, because it actually has characters and those characters actually matter, their actions actually matter in regard to the plot they’re thrown in, and that’s much more than you can say for your average popcorn-ready blockbuster escapist entertainment. This is one of those cases in which I go see a film with really low expectations and leave it being really pleasantly surprised, and I have a feeling the young moviegoers who decide to check this one out will eat it up, as well as they should, I can only imagine how much I would have adored this film as a ten year-old. And adult moviegoers will be able to enjoy the realistic fights and how well done they are, and the relationship between humans and machines it presents, in which apparently machines have taken the spotlight and now humans are relegated to watch them do all the work as they sit idly by in the sidelines, I guess that’s something to think about this movie leaves you with.

Grade: B

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