Real Steel. Let’s just get the “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots” joke out of the way now. This movie is so much more than its mediocre trailers would lead you to believe. I was expecting a summer blockbuster style movie with over the top robot fights and the same old character played by Hugh Jackman.
Well, this has neither of those things. For one, there are actually very few robot fights. But each one means something. And this also means that each one is spectacular. One critic said that these fight scenes are what Transformers should have been. The robots look absolutely real (I know so because the old woman behind me in the theater kept saying so) and the fights are breathtaking. After most of them, the audience applauded. That’s rare.
And then there’s Hugh Jackman. He’s also been gruff and aggressive and usually not so subtle. Here, he’s actually moreso, but in a refreshing way. He is an ass for most of the movie. The basic premise is that he’s reunited with his 11-year-old son, who wants to learn about the popular sport of robot boxing. Well, Jackman is a horrible father figure but it makes the story of redemption that much sweeter.
Since the trailers were misleading… What is this movie like? I would liken it a Disney movie, something like Sorcerer’s Apprentice. There are funny moments, action-packed moments, and a few obligatory crying scenes. It is pretty predictable and doesn’t stray too far from any given formula. But it does succeed at what it tries to be.
Here’s what works: Jackman is good. He’s emotional and angsty enough to pull it off, badass enough to pull off his boxing scenes, but also able to showcase some softer emotions once you can break through the exterior. The effects are incredible and you grow quite attached to the story’s lead robot “Atom.” Even though the robots are remote-controlled, you actually feel like Atom has a personality of his own. The story is cool and doesn’t try to be too unique that it becomes inaccessible to mainstream audiences. It knows exactly what kind of movie it is, though the trailers may have pushed a stronger “explosions!” feeling than actually exists in the movie. The new kid on the scene Dakota Goyo is pretty amazing but I have a feeling he’s a one-trick pony and he won’t be seen again.
What doesn’t work? The movie is incredibly predictable, but that’s a given in the genre. Evangeline Lily (of LOST fame) is in the movie, though doesn’t really get any sort of arc or any sort of story at all. Luckily at least, the romance angle isn’t beaten over our heads, but we’re allowed to focus on the father-son relationship. The only other complaint I have (and this may be a small spoiler) is that the robot likes to dance. … What? When the kid and his giant robot started dancing, I literally rolled my eyes. They do make a point to acknowledge how ridiculous it is, but that doesn’t nullify anything.
And I don’t know if I’d characterize the following as “doesn’t work” but more “I’m tired of…” The villain of this story is played by Kevin Durand. He also played Keamy on LOST, the Blob in Wolverine: Origins, the evil angel in Legion, the evil alien in I Am Number Four, and other various evil dudes. The only nice guy I’ve ever seen him play was the furry mutant Joshua in Jessica Alba’s “Dark Angel.” I know he’s a big intimidating guy, but let’s get someone else to play the villain for once.
So what’s the verdict? The movie is good. It’s good because it will make you cheer and smile and even have you on the edge of your seat. But the only reason it’s not great is that it doesn’t strive to be anything better. There was an incredible potential for Atom to become an emotional centerpiece of this film but that potential was instead used for epic fight scenes (which is great though). There was just a feeling throughout of “I know exactly what’s going to happen and I’m okay with that.”
If you have a few bucks and you want a sure bet, Real Steel is it.