Entries Comments

Real Steel Is Far More Entertaining Than Expected

Real Steel
Directed by Shawn Levy
Written by John Gatin based on a story by Dan Gilroy and Jeremy Leven
Disney, 2011

Real Steel is one of those trailers you watch and say, “Now, that’s a movie that has no chance to be good at all.”  It’s a stimulus-response to the robot-fighting genre, we’ve been burned by Transformers so many times.  Of course, this isn’t so much “fate of the world,” as it is just robots actually fighting, for money.  It’s your typical boxing movie married with The Terminator, or an adaptation of Rock Em Sock Em Robots.  Hey, Disney has made movies on flimsier premises before.

So then you look at the director…Shawn Levy.  Levy has been a hit-or-miss director with critics, mostly miss, although his movies have been major hits: the two Night at the Museum movies, The Pink Panther, and the modest hit Date Night.  At the very least, Levy is capable of making something in the OK range, but his name always conjures up suspicion.  This might be his best movie.

Real Steel is set in the future, probably like 10 years, and if they said it I missed it.  I can only go by the context clues.  Robot fighting is as big as the MMA, and one former boxer, Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman), tries to make a living through it in the underground market.  At the very beginning, he gets into a bad deal with a rodeo mogul named Ricky (Kevin Durand) that sees his robot get destroyed and once again leaving him penniless, in debt, and in danger of being thrashed.

Charlie gets news of a former girlfriend, his babymama, dying, leaving him dealing with custody issues with a son he’s never been around for.  Max (Dakota Goyo) is 11, and it looks like Charlie will strike a deal to hand custody over to Max’s aunt, Debra (Hope Davis) and her husband Marvin (James Rebhorn).  Charlie makes a play under the table for Marvin to hand over some serious dough in return for the custody rights.  Only problem is, Debra and Marvin about to take a vacation abroad and won’t be able to take care of Max.  So Charlie has to try to be a father until they return.  Of course, the relationship between he and Max is going to be strained.

The money buys Charlie a new robot, and as it turns out, Max has a lot of robot-fighting interest just like his dad.  Charlie is way past due on rent with a former flame and former mentor’s daughter, Bailey Tallet (Evangeline Lilly, looking as fresh-faced as ever).  But, the new robot’s time in the ring is short-lived, and before you know it, Charlie and Max are looking for scrap metal in a junkyard.  What comes out of the junkyard is Atom, a long-forgotten, older-model bot with lots of tricks still in the can.

Atom is your typical underdog, he doesn’t look like he could take on any robot worth its weight, but the headstrong Max believes in him, and to no surprise to anyone who has ever seen a movie, Atom makes it out of his first few fights.  He can take hit after hit, and he can learn.  The no-doubt championship match between Atom and a super-mega-colossal badass robot by the name of Zeus seems inevitable.

Just like your typical underdog fighting movie, Real Steel hits all the right buttons. It’s pretty much good for the whole family, and will likely make a whole lot more money than this year’s most-ignored good movie, Warrior.  Atom, who never speaks and has no emotions, somehow draws emotion from an audience, which is a neat trick.  It’s what we know about the robot, and how the people around him react, that give Atom his “personality.”  He was “left for dead,” no one believes in him, he takes a pounding and gets back up for more, and those curious, electronic blue eyes that belie emotion.  There’s a shot in the movie where Atom is looking into a mirror, and it’s a fascinating shot, mainly because the robot isn’t looking in the mirror for any particular vanity or “self-reflection” so to speak, but the audience’s imagination gets going, substitutes their own fears and thoughts into the image, and via projection, Atom is human.

There are, of course, lots of silly things and some annoyances, like for instance, Max can be a little bastard sometimes, but those are minor quibbles.  Real Steel isn’t nearly the best movie you’ll see this year, but as far as family entertainment goes, it’s better than most.


Comment from Jonathan
Time: October 7, 2011, 6:11 am

I read a review of this film that said something along the lines of: There are two people in this world. People who love Rocky III and people who refuse to love Rocky III. If you love it then Real Steel is for you. SOLD!!!

Write a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.