By JAMES MELVILLE
Well, so much for only reviewing Halloween-type movies. Then again, anybody ever gone trick or treating as a robot? You? Great. We’re in the clear.
Speaking of Halloween, are you guys as excited for the next week as I am? Humans vs. Zombies, Dracula, Shakespeare…all culminating in a weekend filled with candy, booze, and me dolled up as my favorite Batman villain. It’s what college is all about. Well, that and classes. Yeah, remember those? They’re kind of a big deal.
Whatever you may think about the importance of your social life, remember: You’ll never get a job because you had fun in college. You’ll get a job because you can work hard. So don’t text in class. I assure you, it’s possible to last an hour and a half without talking to your friends. Also, don’t ever think that nobody can see you texting. Everyone, including the professor, knows what you’re doing. They don’t bother to call you out on it, because, hey, your grade will be punishment enough.
Plot: In the near future, Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) ends up having to care for his estranged eleven-year-old son Max (Dakota Goyo) for the summer. This means taking the kid deep into the crazy world of underground robot boxing. They end up using a smaller, pluckier robot, which gets them noticed on a national level. Could this underdog be their ticket to success? Could the final fight revolutionize the way we think of robot boxing? Could this be the life-changing experience needed to teach Charlie how to be a father again?
Yes. Yes it could.
Real Steel is basically just every underdog boxing story, combined with every father-son bonding story. Only there are robots this time, and for some reason I actually cared about what happened to the characters. Including Atom, the plucky underdog robot.
I should probably explain something: The robots in this movie are just machines. They don’t talk, and every movement has to be controlled by their owner. This isn’t Wall-E, or The Iron Giant. Boxing robots don’t have any more personality than we give to other inanimate objects. That’s still a fair amount of personality, though. We feel differently about Atom, with his round blue eyes and relatively small size, then we do about Zeus, the sleek, hulking Robot Boxing Champion.
If you’re seeing this movie because you want to see robots boxing, then you will not be disappointed. The fights are actually cool. It’s not like Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, which I pretty much remember as two hours of Shia LaBeouf shouting at a blender while Megan Fox wears increasingly revealing shorts. Real Steel has some visual continuity during fight scenes; director Shawn Levy uses a tripod and has shots that are more than half a second long.
Not only are they easy to see, but the fights in Real Steel are also choreographed. The whole point of robot boxing is that it takes the same skill as normal boxing, but it’s more okay if the fighters die. So, for the most part, the matches in the film are set up like there are people fighters. I think it’s harder for a human boxer to decapitate his opponent with an uppercut than it is for a ten-foot-tall robot, but whatevs. The point is Holy Shit You Guys, A Fighting Movie With Fights You Can See.
As for the parts of the movie that aren’t robot fights, I was pleased. Hugh Jackman is charming as a deadbeat father. He’s kind of an asshole, but that’s okay because you can’t really redeem yourself from being a nice guy. There’s no drama in watching someone be nice to his kid and then make money because he’s so nice. There is drama, and some humor, in watching him be mean to his son and then get various comeuppances. He learns important lessons: Treat Your Child Like a Person, Don’t Borrow Money You Can’t Pay Back, and Don’t Be a Dick, Man.
Dakota Goyo manages to hold his own against Jackman and robots. Max is plucky but not precocious. He’s smart and maybe a little too good with technology, but at his core he’s still just a kid who wants to have a father and maybe find the parts he needs to put together a fighting robot.
I shortchanged this movie earlier. It isn’t just every boxing movie and every father-son movie. It’s a good boxing movie with a good father-son story at its heart. It develops characters to the point where, by the time the final fight rolls around, you actually care who wins.
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