Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Real Steel Movie Review

When I reviewed Battleship I mentioned a few other toy products that would make fairly ridiculous movies. I didn’t really think of the “Rock’em Sock’em Robot” toys which features two plastic robot boxers mechanically manipulated by the players as movie material. However, boxing robots trying to knock each other’s heads off is pretty much the whole idea behind Real Steel (2011).
In the near future people became uninterested in boxing and similar sports, so a new sport was created; Robot Boxing features robots battling each other while being controlled by someone. Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman), a former boxer who’s trying to make it in the new sport, not only doesn’t do well, he’s deeply in the red from all his losses. When he learns that his ex-wife, mother of his son Max (Dakota Goyo), has died, Charlie goes to figure out what to do with his estranged son. Max's wealthy aunt Debra (Hope Davis) and uncle Marvin (James Rebhorn) want full custody, so Charlie asks Marvin for money so he can buy a new robot in exchange for turning Max over to them. Charlie reluctantly takes Max for the summer and together they build and train a champion contending robot with the help of Charlie’s child hood mechanic friend, Bailey Tallet (Evangeline Lilly). As the stakes in the brutal, no-holds-barred arena are raised, Charlie and Max against all odds, get one last shot at a comeback.
Real Steel was a corny amalgamation of cliché storytelling tropes. You’ve got the underdog sports player seeking self respect, who miraculously gets a shot at the championship title as seen in Rocky; powerful mechanical robots that fight with each other, very similar to those in Transformers; a weird sport in which the whole world is unanimously invested, like you would see in Pokémon or even The Hunger Games, and all the cheesiness you’ll find in every father-son bonding story. Technically, each of these aren’t bad, but they can be presented in such a way that makes your eyes roll when they exceed credibility or try to emphasize more drama than can be milked from such a concept. Real Steel didn’t manage to make any of it credible and it just comes across as cheesy. You’ll probably laugh at the movie more because it’s hard to take seriously rather than at the sparse moments of the comic relief.
More often than not kid characters are put in a movie to appeal to younger audiences, and they serve no other purpose than that. Truly illogical kid characters will be able to outwit adults who have years more experience and knowledge, have skills that even a child prodigy couldn’t realistically have without a couple of years of post-secondary schooling, and have keen insight to things far beyond their limited experience. For all that these characters can do, why not just have them be a young adult who has that kind of knowledge base and experience? Do movie producers genuinely think that kids will only enjoy movies that feature other kids in it?
That has to be the reasoning behind Max’s character being a kid. At age eleven he can speak fluent Japanese, understands complex fighting techniques, and how to program and construct advanced mechanical automatons. Max also gives useful advice to Charlie, who has been in robot boxing circles for years before Max was born. And get this; he knows how to do all this because he plays video games. Seriously!? I’ve been playing video games for well over 20 years and I can’t do any of that stuff! That really makes the script writer sound like an old fogey who believes that all these crazy newfangled video game and technology things somehow unlock hidden powers and knowledge in young people. This isn’t just a vague excuse to justify a child character who should more reasonably be an adult; it’s just bad writing.
The fighting robots were unabashedly fun, fortunately. The handful of robot boxing matches that the movie actually featured were engaging and exciting. The combination of real robots and CGI animation was seamless. The robots were well designed so no two looked the same, and they moved in such a way that felt like they actually had weight and mass to them. The fights were well choreographed so that it was evident who was winning, who had the upper hand, and why. The robot boxing matches were probably the only really good part of Real Steel; the characters certainly didn’t carry the story well.
Reel Steel is by no means an original film in terms of its base story. It’s so full of clichés, there is no way you haven’t seen this story before. At best it’s all the brainless fun of Rock’em Sock’em Robots while also flailing around to achieve the heart and drama of Rocky. Although the cast usually did a good job in their roles, they had some pretty lame material to work with. I hate seeing Hugh Jackman in such a corny role as this. It reminded me more of the “BattleBots” TV show from about 12 years ago. Personally, I don’t think Real Steel is worth watching but I could see it appealing to teen and preteen boys, Max’s irrationally implausible character aside. Even if you really want to see robots fighting, I’d try to borrow this from someone; I don’t think it is even worth the cost of a movie rental.

What’s your favorite fictional sports movie? The Hunger Games? Quidditch from Harry Potter? Podracing from Star Wars? Can you think of others? Comment below and tell me why you like these fictional sports!

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