I liked the idea of a Rock Em Sock Em Robots movie- maybe one day we will get that movie because unfortunately though REAL STEEL features fighting robots, it’s much more a father/son movie than it is actually about fighting robots. I really had zero interest from the trailers to ever see the movie and I have to say that I’m actually glad to have seen it- that has to say something about the film right? I was entertained more often than not but I was really hoping for some more robot on robot throwdowns than I got.
Hugh Jackman stars as a former boxer, Charlie, now swimming in massive debt in a future where humans control massive robots to box each other. A string of bad luck finds him struggling to pay people he owes money to and looking for parts to make a new fighting robot at the same time he is saddled with a kid, Max (Dakota Goyo), that he doesn’t want. On a late night hunt for parts Max comes across the remains of an early model robot used mostly for sparring and brings it back to clean it up. Max convinces Charlie to enter it into some fight and gives it the name ATOM. After ATOM shows itself capable of taking a beating and winning some fights Charlie sees the bot as his ticket to finally making some money.
REAL STEEL is not here to push across realism in fighting or even family relationships as movies like THE FIGHTER or WARRIOR did recently, but it does give off enough good vibes and intentions to be a pretty nice father/son story when it’s all said and done. Based on the Richard Matheson story it definitely is not the Rock Em Sock Em Robots movie most thought it’d be when it was announced and trailers emerged. The fighting scenes were a lot of fun though and if this movie inspires the Rock Em Sock Em Robots movie then I hope they takes some notes from the fighting scenes in REAL STEEL.
The special effects used for the robots are actually pretty great- not quite photorealistic, but just seamless enough to not pull me out of the movie when on screen interacting with human characters. The fights themselves are easily more videogame quality but also still very fun to watch to a point that I can still buy it in context to the film and not feel like I’ve just entered generic videogame cutscene.
I was convinced by the trailers that I was going to hate each and every story aspect in regards to Hugh Jackman’s character. Everything up until I finally started watching the film said it was going to be painfully generic and hokey but as it started unfolding I actually started to enjoy the dynamic between Charlie and Max. Jackman plays a character that is extremely selfish and has a one track mind and the things he says to his own flesh and blood are somewhat shocking. His transformation to a more likable father figure was believable and lends to how satisfying the conclusion is for me.
There are a few things that either didn’t work for me or just kind of seemed goofy. For one the relationship between Jackman’s character and Evangeline Lilly’s character wasn’t entirely fleshed out thus somewhat meaningless and tacked on. When it is later revealed that ATOM has a shadow function and mimics everything the person in front of him is doing and there are some interesting things done with them, but dancing had equal parts goofy laughs and genuine charm.
I also feel like there are some missed opportunities with certain characters as well as an interesting aspect of ATOM that kind of gets pushed under the rug. I would have liked to see more done with Anthony Mackie’s character mostly because he added quite a bit of fun in his stretches of the movie and he was quite good in the part. There is also a lot of robot fighting in the film but I still could have used more. The robot fighting is easily one of my favorite aspects in the movie and there are a few really fun scenes with the fights which just made me wish certain weaker elements had been scrapped for more extended fight sequences.
REAL STEEL emerged as one of those pleasant surprises- a film I expected nothing from and ended up with an emotional resonance I was totally unprepared to experience. Jackman gives a pretty good performance as the jerk you love to hate but with a good guy underneath his rough exterior. The film is not without its flaws mostly in the unrealized depths with its central robot character and characters that I wish had had a bigger role. Overall, REAL STEEL is an effective one two punch of fun sports flick with a bit of emotional father/son moments that could have used a bit more ambition to really take the experience to the next level.