Directed by Shawn Levy. Starring Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, Dakota Goyo.
It’s pretty obvious from the posters that this film is going to be B-grade material. That’s inspite of the fact that it has Hugh Jackman in the lead and executive producer Steven Spielberg (that tag doesn’t seem to mean much nowadays), with music by the great Danny Elfman. The first half hour of the film is so brain-dead and irritating that you wonder how you’ll endure another hour-and-a-half of machines ripping off each other limbs and music that makes you want to stick your hands in your ears.
But thankfully, things do get a tad better. That’s only after you’re a bit repulsed by the fact that the filmmakers thought it was okay to have a mean boxing robot go up against a bull in a rodeo arena (has PETA seen this movie yet?). You’re prepared to forgive and forget after the bull gets the better of the bot. And then of course robot-owner Charlie Kenton (Jackman), former heavyweight boxing champion, loses his bet money and has to flee the scene. You see this is the future and human boxing is no more. People prefer watching robots (ala Transformers) battle each other in the ring. So battery fluid instead of blood. Scratches and dents instead of cuts and bruises. Hard to believe the film’s premise that people flock to see this considering the lack of human drama (and pain) in such a fight.
To make things interesting and show us it isn’t a film about machines, the story throws in Charlie’s 11-year-old son Max (Goyo) who he abandoned after birth but now has to take temporary custody of, which proves to be a lucrative proposition for him. Max is his lucky charm, finds a vintage robot in a junkyard that turns out to be fighting gold for them and the father-son bonding that follows is pretty much foreseen.
The transformation of Charlie from a sleazy, no-good, errant father to a caring, sweet, charming and dutiful man is too quick and unbelievable. The story between Atom the robot and Max, his trainer, is never really dealt with properly. You are reminded of a similar kinship shared by boy and robot in the far superior animated film The Iron Giant. In Real Steel you’re never sure if Atom possesses a conscience and humanity. Is it totally remote controlled or does he have a soul? No clue. The only fun thing is when Max teaches Atom to breakdance and do the ‘robot’ (remember that move? Never mind!).
Jackman isn’t at his best, Dakota Goyo is no Haley Joel Osmont (who was brilliant in the cyborg film AI) and the lovely Evangeline Lilly doesn’t really have that much to do, which is a shame. Real Steel isn’t horrible, it could have been really good had the filmmakers instilled something unique in it, given the robot more to do and more spirit, and not have made the father-son equation so predictable.