Real Steel (2011) Cert: 12a
Running Time: 127 mins
Reviewed by: David Gillespie – HCF Official Artist
I’ve always loved the reviews you get in newspapers and magazines when they tell you to go and see a film if you liked what they deem to be similar previous releases. With Real Steel it would be a combination of Rocky, Transformers, Spy Kids and the Champ. It combines a down on his luck dad, son, girlfriend and robot that we all should be routing for with metal pounding action and carnage. But how hard do you need to try to win over your audience? It has countless sad eye shots Dakoto Goyo (the son), tired eyes of Evangeline Lily (the girlfriend), sad bleeps and sighs (Atom the droid) and depressed and hopless grimaces from Hugh Jackman (the father). Does the audience needs these shots so we can all swing our fist in the air harder and go, ‘Yeh’ when things start going right for the Kenton clan?
Hugh Jackman plays Charlie Kenton, an ex-fighter and seemingly hopeless robot trainer. He is up to his neck in debt and is borrowing more and more money to purchase cut price fighting robots that end up as scrap by the end of each match. News that his 11 year old son, Max has lost his mum, only serves as another inconvenience and he agrees to handover the child to his caring aunt (Hope Davis) in exchange for money from the new stepdad (James Rebhorn). Part of the deal is that he has to take Max into his care for a few months which is the part that upsets Charlie most. His plan is to dump the boy with his girlfriend, Bailey (Envangleine Lilly) while he goes on the road. But Max manages to get in on the action.
During a break in to a scrap yard for spare robot parts, Max discovers a beaten up sparring robot (a droid that can take a beating but not dish it out) which he takes back to Bailey to reconstruct. Charlie dismisses his son’s tastes in droids by lambasting his chances of success in a fight. You know it is only a matter of time before the new acquisition, named Atom turns up in the ring and suddenly the Kentons’ fortunes start to take a turn for the better. Not only does Max possess a flair for dodgy dealings and bargaining powerbut he has unearthed a iron giant with a pair of steel cahoonas. Atom takes a pounding in the movie’s most enjoyable and funny battle sequence from a heavy, ugly beast of a droid. The dads and sons in the cinema crowd certainly were shouting when Atom drags himself from the dirt and starts the big fight back. Hooray!
Soon the Kenton team are gaining publicity and marching up the ranks as the battered but seemingly invincible Atom goes from one victory to another. Max holds the belief, Charlie can spot an opponent’s weaknesses and Adam can get his face pummelled and get back up. Yet it is invivitable that a winner takes all match between the undefeated champion, Zeus will be approaching sooner than later. A droid that cannot be defeated. Can he?
Real Steel falls into beer movie, action territory. It is a cluster of assembled scrap components and cinematic emotional techniques that reels in it’s targeted family audience and in most cases, achieves what it sets out to do. The effects and fight sequences are solid and occasionally exciting. They are certainly on a par with what was on offer in the Transformers flicks but on a much smaller canvas. The combination of shiny, spray painted, techno robots against the scrappy, oil dripping monster droids is a nice touch. There is certainly more heart in Real Steel than in a combo of all three Transformer releases put together. The relationship with Bumblebee and Sam is on a similar theme to Atom and Max, yet the latter is more moving and sincere.
At some points, Shawn Levy hints that there might be something more within Atom than just metal and oil. There are several lingering shots of the droid where one might think that he might respond or do something to suggest he has a soul or artificial intelligence but perhaps wisely the director never explores or verifies this. I did think for one moment during a scene where the father and son are beaten up and robbed of their money by bad guy (Kevin Durand) that Atom might jump into the action to save them.
The movie’s real problem arrives with Hugh Jackman’s character. He is so dislikeable, stupid yet cocksure during the bulk of the running time that all our attention is drawn to Max and Atom. How many times do we have to see Jackman look to the side or lose attention when he thinks he’s won a fight only for the opponent to jump up and bop his robot? Charlie blatantly steals parts and money but the audience are meant to route for him. If Kenton team had lost all those fights you can’t help expecting that he would have dumped his son quicker than the referee destroyed Wales chances of winning against France in the the Rugby World Cup Semi finals. I couldn’t help think the director made a massive misjudgement making his main character such a tw*t.
The next problem is the sentimental direction that the story takes. Even the children in the audience groaned when Charlie finally gains the respect of his son in a truly horrible and sick inducing sequence during the final fight confrontation. This is a guy’s movie and we want to see robots smashing things up not young boys shedding tears of pride for their dads. Am I wrong? Maybe.
For all it’s faults, Real Steel does revel in it’s crowd pleasing credentials. The Americans love the underdog story and this is just another of the endless variations that Hollywood churn out that 9 out of 10 confidently smash the box office cash registers. Most of the cinema audience left with a smile on their face with young lads telling their dads that the film was cool. Real Steel certainly achieves that goal. I can see a sequel in the making.