Real Steel

Leave it to Disney to serve up an action-packed robot boxing movie with a heaping serving of Velveeta. In between scenes of steel crushing steel there’s still enough time to fill the gaps with cliched estranged father-and-son bonding. Hugh Jackman is a degenerate drunk, gambler, and he’s heavily in debt to all the people you don’t want to be in debt to. Oh, and he has a son he hasn’t spoken to in eleven years…or eight years, he’s not entirely sure. Anyway, he comes into custody of the child after his ex-wife dies inexplicably (it’s literally just a note in the script: “Mom dies to bring Jackman & Son together for hijinks, never mention her death again”). It’s a familiar story, but Real Steel plays it well.

After seeing the original Twilight Zone episode that this movie was based on (which in turn was based on a Richard Matheson short story), the climax of the film is a bit of a letdown. Admittedly it isn’t plausible for the film to end in the same way – the robots in this one are just too powerful – but it is a little underwhelming to see a retread of Rocky (this time with robots!). It’s too be expected though – the original ending would’ve been a little too dark for the movie’s target audience of 6 – 75. I think it could’ve been quite fitting and emotional (although it would’ve been a retread of The Champ…this time with robots!)

What Real Steel lacks in flesh-and-blood feeling it makes up for in multiple robot-on-robot action sequences. By my count, there’s seven or eight different fights – each probably lasting about three-four minutes. Which means a solid return on movie ticket to robot action – one dollar gets you two and a half minutes of machinery crushing ACTION! And what action it is. It’s surprising how effective the boxing sequences are. The stakes are non-existent (these are CGI fighters) but we believe everything we see because of incredible effects, great sound design, and strong editing. It’s quite exciting and if it doesn’t make you want to shadowbox after the movie’s over, then you’re lying.

The only missteps of the film is when its lays on the cheese a little thick. Evangeline Lilly’s character is mostly the cause of this, essentially because she isn’t given much to do besides wax nostalgically about what a great fighter Jackman used to be and then tear up when Jackman & Son start bonding. Also, Real Steel is guilty of one of my biggest pet peeves – dancing scenes that are supposed to be adorable. Dakota Goyo plays the young son in the movie and he’s excellent, often showing up Lilly and Jackman in the acting department. Except when he starts dancing with his robot. It’s probably just me but I’ve never enjoyed scenes where characters are in their own homes, or in private, or anywhere, really, and they dance to a song they like. I find it neither enjoyable, entertaining, nor adorable. It’s awkward and eye-roll inducing. Please no more dancing scenes like this.

Despite its flaws, Real Steel is a crowd-pleasing collage of  two Sylvester Stallone films – Over the Top and Rocky,  – but I’d be damned to say it isn’t an enjoyable, if formulaic, flick that manages to hit all the right beats.

Real Steel is the real deal (….Sigh. I’ll let myself out).

Grade: B-

Sidenote: There’s a scene with Evangeline Lilly in a bar watching an important robot boxing event for Jackman & Son. It’s unintentionally hilarious and distracting because of an extra who really, really wants to talk to her. It’s the equivalent of the scene from Bruno when he’s auditioning for a part on NBC’s Medium….except this actually made it into the final cut.

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