3 out of 5 stars
Genre: SciFi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Drama
Opens locally Friday, October 7th, 201
Run Time: 2 hours 7 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, Dakota Goyo, Kevin Durand, Hope Davis
Directed by Shawn Levy (Date Night, Night at the Museum, Big Fat Liar)
Shot completely in Michigan, I had high hopes for “Real Steel,” the adrenaline-charged, futuristic boxing movie starring Hugh Jackman. Sure there are robots, a lots of cartoonish mayhem and a few cuss words mixed in, but rarely has a movie set in the future lacked so much in terms of imagination. Fun? Yes, I’d say so. Ground-breaking? Hardly, unless you count when the 1 ton robots jump up and down.
Hugh Jackman stars as Charlie, a former boxer who is now over his head in debts he can’t pay. The movie is set in the near-future, where a new sport called “robot boxing” has all but replaced the human sport. These larger-than-life sized robots are controlled in various ways by a human counter-part…some by voice-command, some by shadowing their owner, and others by remote control. When the human “coach” bobs and weaves, or kicks or twirls, so does the robot he’s controlling. There is a professional robot boxing league, as well as underground robot boxing, just as there would be with humans in today’s world.
When Charlie arranges to have custody of his young son for a summer (he stands to make some cash out of the deal), he gets more than he’s bargained for. The dead-beat absent dad is now looking after his bitter and abandoned son. When young Max (Dakota Goyo, looking like a robot-clone himself of young Anakin Skywalker actor, Jake Lloyd) discovers an old and outdated robot fighter in a junkyard, and they discover that he has a knack for robot boxing, Charlie sees an opportunity to get out of debt, and Max finds purpose.
They enter the robot in boxing tournaments, where he does very well, and they eventually get a shot at the current undefeated champion robot, Zeus, who’s artificial intelligence adapts to his opponent while in the ring.
While there is a lot of action and noise, “Real Steel” is more of a live-action cartoon than a real movie. I have a problem with movies that are set in the future, that lack innovation. I was disappointed that there seemed to be incredible potential to create an inventive future world of robot boxing, but instead we get what one would expect…Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots just pounding the bejeezus out of each other.
It was also very hard caring or believing in the robots. When a human fighter gets beat up in the ring, and fights again in a few months, his wounds and scars heal. How is it that the same robot can fight and have a long-lasting career taking such damage? And there is nothing human at stake in the ring, is there? It’s all up to how well the machine was built, and mechanics, other than human spirit and emotion.
Still, I found myself deeply moved in a scene towards the end of “Real Steel,” despite thinking that the rest of the film was an uneven pile of spare parts. Hugh Jackman is a true A-List star, and delivers a performance much better than a movie like this deserves. And young Dakota Goyo shows that he is a very good child actor, as much of the film relies on him interacting with a CG robot, and holding his own in emotional scenes with Hugh Jackman. But the beautiful Evangeline Lilly? As a fan of hers, it saddened me to see her in a big movie playing such a poorly developed character.
“Real Steel” is just a lot of noise and metal. Ironically, the best part of the movie for me was the father-son relationship, with two great performances from man and child, and the human element the two share. A robot abandoned, a child abandoned, and a script abandoned.
The rest of the film is in need of some serious repair.
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