Rocky with Robots… and an annoying little kid.
The people I’ve talked to about Real Steel constantly say it is Rock’em Sock’em Robots without the Mattel® license and in a way they are correct. Robot on robot action is the main draw in this boxing film, starring Hugh Jackman and directed by Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum). Real Steel is based on a short story and Twilight Zone episode by Richard Matheson; although you probably wouldn’t think it from how heavily they’ve modified it. Real Steel attempts to be the Rocky movie no one really needed, only with a robot twist because I guess Transformers are pretty big right now. Real Steel: Rocky with robots.
In this not-too-distant-but-still-seemingly-distant future boxing is no longer two humans punching each other in a ring, it is a giant spectacle with shiny robots. Real Steel goes about explaining itself in the most ludicrous of ways. Apparently, people got bored with humans punching each other because they couldn’t kill each other. The population got tired of the slow pace and uneventful shows. So, they created robot boxers because with robots, no one gets hurt and the fights are an even bigger show.
The movie follows Charlie Kenton, a highly unlikeable character who is only doing what he does for money. Within the first twenty minutes of the movie Charlie sells custody of his son to his sister-in-law for $100,000. We are expected to care for this character? I found it very hard to do so. For some reason, even after selling the kid, he has to keep him for a couple of months. Obviously they are going to have major flaws and hate each other, but robot boxing will bring them closer than ever before.
Charlie’s son Max finds a broken down B2 robot in a junkyard and works to fix him. After Charlie loses two or three robots, he gives his son’s B2 a shot. Charlie shows resentment towards his son up until the moment his robot wins $2000 in a match, once again making his motivations all about money.
I don’t mean to go in too much detail of the plot and with a two-hour runtime it sure does of have a lot of it. Complete with a montage of Max and his robot doing super dumb dances before their matches.
I mentioned the setting earlier, which is one of the main problems I had with Real Steel. It is never said what year it is, but they mention past events as if they’re supposed to mean something. Charlie Kenton was a boxer in 2007. In 2014 the B2 robots were created. I guess it is much later after that because a B14 and B17 were coming out.
Other than robot boxers and glass-panel smart phones and laptops the future looks almost exactly the same as 2011. Cars still run on gas, robots aren’t used for anything but boxing, and apparently Dr. Pepper’s logo doesn’t change for the next 20+ years. One glaring little detail I thought was pretty funny was all the consumer electronics had an HP logo on them, even though HP recently announced they were getting out of the consumer PC industry. Also, no matter what direction one of these glass-panel laptops is facing, the HP logo can be read from right to left. Oh product placement, I will never understand you.
Real Steel is not a bad movie, it is just utterly mediocre. Characters aren’t likeable until the final scenes of the movie (which are basically ripped straight out of all boxing movies ever made), some scenes have no context for the rest of the film, beating someone “within an inch of [their] life” means giving them a black eye and bruised ribs instead of actually hurting them. The “villains” of the movie have no reason for being so villainous and Real Steel seems to go out of its way to make fun of one of its core demographics: gamers. I guess because I’ve played video games that means I know Japanese and how to control a super complicated live robot. And I guess because some guys are sitting behind a console controlling a giant boxing robot that makes them “nerds.” Sure. Let’s go with that.
I feel like I’m being horribly down on Real Steel and I don’t mean to be. It is a fully functional film that most moviegoers might enjoy, especially if they haven’t seen Rocky, On The Waterfront, The Fighter, The Wrestler, etc. The acting is pretty good, with the exception of the kid who plays Max, but then again I do have a problem with child actors sometimes. The special effects are actually pretty good and most of the time could be considered better than Transformers.
Real Steel could have been a contender if only it didn’t derive so much from other great movies with the same themes and do nothing original with it. I personally suggest saving your money and waiting for it on DVD, or watching the Steel episode of The Twilight Zone on Netflix, or watching any of the Rocky movies but picture the fighters as robots.
Real Steel is a movie you go see just to see a movie.
The Good: Special effects
The Bad: Bland story and flat villains
The Ugly: The two main characters are highly unlikeable and every plot detail revolves around money.
Score: 6.5 out of 10
Final comments: I suggest waiting until it is out on DVD. There are some great films out right now that are better than Real Steel. I may not have liked it, but I know many people will really like it. More power to them.