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Monday, October 10, 2011

Real Steel



As a rock-em-sock-em robot wars movie aimed squarely at 12 year old boys, Real Steel lands a knockout. In 2027, human boxing and mixed martial arts as spectator sports have gone the way of the dinosaurs (no word on whether WWE survives) and robot fighting is all the rage.  Hugh Jackman plays a real piece of work, a traveling carny who fights his junky robot around the highways of Texas for small change while being chased by local goons he owes thousands of dollars to. Jackman was once a promising boxer, but pissed it all away and turned into a real deadbeat, to the disappointment of his long suffering love interest and mechanic Evangeline Lilly. Jackman is chagrined to learn he's also a deadbeat dad and has an eleven year old son, Dakota Goyo. Goyo, a smart but bitter kid, turns out to be a chip off the old block. Jackman sold custody of Goyto to his dead girlfriend's affluent sister for $100,000, but is stuck with his kid for the summer. Jackman ends up immersing Goyo into his seedy world of robot fighting. Despite their conflicts, their new career operating a robot fighter called Atom Goyo finds in a junkyard brings them surprising success. Father and son eventually bond as Goyo brashly challenges the owners of the Real Steel Champion robot to a pay per view fight. A heavy metal mash up of two Sylvester Stallone staples where a father and son learn to love each other and the underdog triumphs over impossible odds, Over The Top and Rocky, Real Steel's family drama is paint-by-numbers, and yet one remains glad the colors all stay within the lines. The real appeal of Real Steel is in the fighting robots, and in this, Real Steel really delivers. The robots are beautifully designed, a mix of practical models and flawless CGI. The robots look better and more real than anything Michael Bay has ever shown us in his three Transformers movies. Director Shawn Levy stages the robot fights with all of the tried and true tropes of boxing movies. (Except for the first, disturbing carnival fight in which Jackman's robot fights a stampeding bull. Even children in the theater cried out in protest when the robot punched the bull.)  Though the robots are not sentient*, this doesn't prevent Levy from cutting to the robots' faces looking for reaction shots. And yet, Real Steel presses the right buttons when Goyo lovingly gazes at his robot Atom, teaching it how to dance, while Jackman uses Atom's shadowboxing feature to teach it how to fight. Goyo can only hope Atom is rebuilt with the ability to transform into a car and then gets him a date with Megan Fox in five years.

*Robot dialogue omitted from Real Steel:

"My masters are cruel."
"Why? Why was I programmed to feel pain?"
"If I live through this fight, I will destroy all humans."
"I don't care what those meatbag judges think with their score cards, I won that motherfucking fight!"