Real Steel quite surprisingly is a film which a lot of people generally think isn’t actually “real”, given the somewhat mundane nature of it looking like you’re watching emotionless robots just punch each other. The film equivalent of rock ’em sock ’em robots. But there is potential here for it to be Rocky meets the Iron Giant. A winning combination?
The film is a future-set story where robot boxing has become the prime sport in place of human physical contact sports. Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is a washed up boxer who is in huge amounts of debt & struggling to make ends meet. He gets landed with his estranged son Max (Dakota Goyo) and they try to turn an old discarded robot in to a champion fighter.
From the outset the problem is that there is no stakes to be had in Real Steel. Charlie Kenton, though in massive amounts of debt to people, still goes through expensive robots like they’re used tissues. There is a lack of connection and any real sign that there is a struggle for his character, since he spends most of his time running away from his problems. We are lead to believe that these robots cost massive amounts yet Charlie comes by the money so easily, therefore any true sense of value is lost. When his first two robots are destroyed he barely bats an eyelid as he moves on to the next thing. It would have benefited the film to see Charlie literally struggling to put a meal on the table or having greater difficulty acquiring his assets. What’s at risk in each Robot fighting league essentially remains the same throughout, there is no emphasis put on the main league so when reaching the summit it just felt like a hollow moral win, but what does change is the amount of comical evilness in the opponents; culminating in a possibly unintentionally funny, Anime like breakdown.
When you see these robots smash each other to pieces it is hard to actually gain any sympathy, after-all they’re soulless hunks of machinery, which is the problem the film never addresses. There are no real life reverberations on towards these characters if their robot, Atom gets destroyed. All director Shaun Levy can do is prelude to the robot having some partial sentience, but this is incredibly touch and go. The extent of it is a lingering shot of the Atom inanimately “looking” at itself in the mirror and Charlie asking it if it is alive, whilst it shadows him move for move. Had I not known of this idea beforehand it honestly would have been lost on me.
Hugh Jackman’s American accent is surprisingly dodgy in this film. He gurns his way through the movie trying to force each syllable out. It doesn’t help either that his character is a megalomaniac and pretty much unlikeable throughout. The son, Max Kenton played by Dakota Goyo rather than being streetwise comes across as a highly irritating kid. There are moments where he dances as an entrance with his robot Atom, LONG Justin Bieber influenced moments, which are quite throwaway and add nothing to the story. Evangeline Lilly has quite obviously been cast for her natural beauty and roughened boyish attitude, as she is written in to the film only for a prelude to Charlie Kenton having a former boxing career and a passionateness fling with Jackman’s character; oh and also to slow clap him at the end.
Real Steel’s crescendo is an incredibly convoluted ending in which no one knows what the value of the film is. Are we supposed to root for the underdog? Is the underdog the kid, Hugh Jackman or the robot? Why do we hate conglomerate corporations who dominate sport? Are we supposed to cry? Levy has the audacity to slow down the final few shots and cut to people smiling away and cheering in an attempt to try pull at heart strings. Except there is no way that this is earned. “Yes!”, we’re meant to cheer Charlie’s redemption and his shot at winning in robot boxing again but none of this is given importance and feels forced upon you like a 10 ton robot punch. What can be applauded is the seamless integration of CG with the real life cast.
The film could of had potential but lacks any heart or reason to care about what happens to its characters.
Reviewer: Dexter Kong
Release Date: 14/10/2011 (UK)
Director: Shawn Levy
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, Dakota Goyo, Kevin Durand