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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Real Steel | Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lily and Dakota Goyo | Review

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Real Steel

In place of human boxers, high tech robots get in the ring and duke it out in Real Steel, a family friendly, action packed film starring Hugh Jackman that is a real crowd pleaser.

Set in the not too distant future of 2027, where the architecture, cars and fashions look the same as in today's society,  the sport of boxing had undergone a major change.  Because people wanted to witness more carnage, the next logical step was to replace humans with eight foot tall, voice controlled killing machines, high tech robots that could literally rip each other apart.

Enter, Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman), a former boxer who's now a down-and-out fight promoter looking to make some fast cash by traveling from one underground boxing venue to the next in his sixteen wheeler with a steel robot that he enters in fights.

A kink in Charlie's life comes when he is forced to reconnect with Max (Dakota Goyo) his 11 year old son that he abandoned shortly after his former girlfriend gave birth. As an absentee father and jerk Charlie couldn't care less about his kid, until the idea of making some money figures in.  It turns out Max's wealthy Aunt Debra (Hope Davis) wants full custody of Max, which is fine with Charlie. However, he sees an opportunity to cash in on the deal and buy a new robot when Debra's husband (James Redhorn) offers him $50,000 to take care of the boy for the summer while he and his wife vacation in Italy.

At first, spunky Max is angry, resentful and unhappy about sprnfing time with Charlie, and has no qualms about speaking his mind towards the deadbeat Dad he never knew. Stuck with each other, things changes after Max discovers a discarded, beat up old robot used for sparring named Atom in a junkyard, that turns out to be imparted with something special. Max is a big fan of robot boxing and as a precocious, smart kid decides to make Atom his own project. While bonding with Atom, Max teaches him how to mimic boxing (and even dance) moves, and with the help of his Dad, transforms the weaker looking, smaller robot into an actual contender against the monstrous champ, a super robot named Zeus.

Real Steel (loosely based on an old Twilight Zone episode titled “Steel”) borrows from boxing movies where the underdog, against all odds, overcomes adversities to become a winner. A mix of Rocky, Transformers and 1979's The Champ (that co-starred a very young Ricky Schroeder, whom Goyo resembles), the story is predictable and includes typical characters that are part of the usual formula. Evangeline Lily (TV's Lost) makes a strong impression as Bailey, Charlie's, understanding long time love interest, who inherited her father's gym where she stores and aids in repairing and re-conditioning the broken down robots. For additional conflict, sideline villainous characters come in the form of a big southern brute named Ricky (Kevin Durand) that is after Charlie to pay off a debt from unfair boxing match Charlie's robot was sure to lose, and a duo made up of a Russian beauty (Olga Fonda) that owns Zeus, and his Asian creator/designer Machido (Karl Yune).

What Real Steel lacks in originality, it makes up with enthusiatic performances by Jackman, who oozes charisma and charm and has great chemistry with the adorable Goyo. But the real stars are the cool  super robots, each with their own defining look, like Midas's tall red Mohawk, the Black Helmeted, Asian warrior-like Zeus and Atom who possesses mesmerizing, glowing blue spots as eyes behind a square shaped mesh mask and, although not programmed to speak, evokes human emotions, a unique characteristic the filmmakers failed to explore, to the script's detriment.

The creative team at Digital Effects do a spectacular job in bringing the computer generated images to life, seamlessly integrating the animated robots with live action. They are totally believable and convincing with movements that were supervised by real-life boxing champ Sugar Ray Leonard.

If there are elements that appear to be Spielberg-esque, that is because Steven Spielberg is the executive producer and his influential, signature fingerprint is clearly present.  Director Shaw Levy (2006's A Night at the Museum, and The Pink Panther) knows the kind of material he is working with, what the audience wants, and keeps the story flowing at an accelerating pace, pumping up the excitement and action when due.

Overdone formula or not, Real Steel is the real deal, offering up one helluva good time at the movies. This is a story that encapsulates a father and son relationship, reconciliation, redemption and rewarding comeback. Whether a kid or adult, you can't help but root for that.

 

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