Despite the ridiculous premise, Shawn Levy’s Real Steel is an inspiring family movie, and easily his best feature since Big Fat Liar.
Based on a short story by Richard Matheson (of I Am Legend fame), this kinda sci-fi tale is set in the near future when human boxing has been replaced by robot boxing. Apparently humanity’s lust for violence simply couldn’t be sated by pugilists’ limitations of the flesh, and thus we get giant robots beating the cogs out of each other. Ex-boxer Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) lives hand to mouth, entering robots into any fights he can find. After the death of an ex-girlfriend, he’s lumped with his 11 year old son, Max (Dakota Goyo), and before you can say “life lessons”, the two of them manage to make something of themselves in the robot boxing world.
It’s hokey as all get out, but the reason that Real Steel succeeds is because of the dedicated performances, assured direction and sincere approach to the material. It’s basically Rocky with robots, complete with emphasis on the underdog taking on the bigwigs, and in the end it comes together rather wonderfully.
The robots look fantastic. Easily the best example of CGI I’ve seen in years, they blend seamlessly into the physical world and, quite frankly, put Transformers‘ ‘bots to shame. The mix of animatronics and CGI is practically flawless, and often I wasn’t sure which of the two I was looking at.
Jackman is in great form here. He also happens to be ludicrously bulky, though seems way too top heavy to be a boxer. He certainly sells the part, even if it’s hard to believe that a lazy drunk somehow finds the time and dedication to work out every day. His chemistry with Evangeline Lilly (as Bailey Tallet) is great, and their kinda-sorta romance has some surprising undertones, considering that the two of their characters apparently grew up together. A lot of the film’s success rests on the shoulders of young Goyo, and he manages to put in a solid performance without being too cutesy.
After Super 8, this is another Spielberg-produced film on which he clearly had an influence. The old Spielbergian focus on the father/son relationship is just as apparent as it was in J.J. Abrams’ film, and is equally successful. The film has its fair share of cartoonish villains and there are practically no surprises, but on the whole, Real Steel is good family fun and is never caught on the back foot.Rating: