CPE and Em: Real Steel is Rocky Sock ‘Em Robots

Real Steel – 2011

Directed by Shawn Levy
Starring
 Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lily, Dakota Goyo, Anthony Mackie, Kevin Durand, Hope Davis, James Rebhorn, Olga Fonda, Karl Yune
Written by
John Gatins

There is such a disconcerting premise to the core of Real Steel, it almost completely eradicates what is right about it.  As Charlie Kenton, Jackman is not a full man.  A supposed former boxer, he is now scrounging for parts to make robots to fight robots, bulls, etc.  In the year 2020, robots have taken the place of men in the gladiator arena.  There is no real effort put out by Kenton to understand how to use these robots, so, of course it’s always back to the scrap heap after each fight.  How this becomes popular, I have no idea.  The robots seem to be an extension of whomever is operating them and there seems to be no real set of rules as to what the machines can be made of, or do in the ring.  Suffice to say, in a world that produced NASCAR, I just can’t see it.

So, in the mix of this story where robots fight robots, we get a father / son story.  This could have been a strength, especially with the acting of Goyo as Max Kenton.  Goyo looks a bit like Anakin Skywalker from The Phantom Menace, but those similarities end as soon as the kid starts reading his lines.  Whereas little Jake Lloyd seemed like he was trying to remember what to say to a blue screen, Dakota Goyo actually interacts with his on-screen components in an organic way.  Sad thing is, this part of the story line is so convoluted premise-wise, there is little chance to feel good about what the film wants you to see as success.

Somehow, Charlie is called upon by the courts to decide upon the fate of his son, who he supposedly signed away rights to when the kid was born 11 years earlier.  Now, with the mother dead, and her sister (Davis) married to a man of means (Rebhorn) and she wants to raise the kid.  Problem solved, right?  Sadly, no.  In a situation that could only arise from a bad movie script, somehow Charlie ends up not only re-selling the rights away to his sister-in-law’s wife, but he STILL has to watch him for the summer, while the rich people go on a trip to Europe.  Or something like that.

Thrown in the mix at this point is Evangeline Lily, who as Bailey Tallet, is the daughter of Charlie’s former manager.  She works on the robots, mainly by reading the instructions while Charlie panics at being unable to understand why it doesn’t work.  After blowing half of the money that he got for the kid, he and Max are in another scrap heap, when they find Atom, a “Gen-2” that is small and can take a ton of hits.  Sound familiar?

The rest of the film is a rise to the top, with a few hits in the groin thrown in for good measure.  The last 30 minutes are almost entirely lifted right out of Rocky.   It is enough to entertain kids who liked the movie Iron Giant, even if it fails to achieve half of the status of that classic.

Jackman, unfortunately, has rarely been so ineffective.  More of a caricature than a person, his actions seem driven not at all by logic.  Lily is there mainly to look worried and then grin when things are going well.  Davis and Rebhorn seem a little over qualified for their roles, when all they do is supply money, love and applause.  At least they weren’t made into faux bad guys.  There is no sense of amazement to the proceedings for anyone other than the kid, to be sure.  I suppose the machines had fought for enough years in 2020 to warrant this, but if I had a robot that was fighting a bull, I would not be distracted by a tart in the 4th row.

The special effects are good in the relative low-key approach of Levy.  There are a minimum of wacky hi-jinx outside of Jackman’s performance.  The machines are not made to seem too cute or too menacing.  There is a lot to work with here, if you just tweak the script towards common sense and tell Jackman to tone it down a notch or four.

(**1/2 out of *****)

Em’s review:

I don’t like the way the kid talked to his dad.  He sort of did it like sassy.  At the beginning, he threatened to drop his Dad’s keys in the sewer.  That was rude.

Don’t you think his kid might have been mad because his dad sold him?

It’s pretty sad.  He was trying to do what was best for his kid.  He knew he wasn’t taking care of his kid right.  So he went to his girlfriend’s (Bailey) who told him how he should do right by the boy.

What did you think of the robots?

My favorite, I would say is Atom.  His name is Atom.  A-T-O-M.  It should be pronounced Ah Tom, but they pronounced it At Tom.

What did you not like?

I didn’t like when the Asian guy hit the glass with his fist.  I thought he would start to bleed so I was scared so I did not like that part.

What would you rate Real Steel out of *****?

If we were rating Up or Toy Story 3, I would give it ***** stars out of  *****.

This one I would give *** stars or **.

Wouldn’t that be **1/2? 

How many stars did you give it?

**1/2.

That’s what I gave it.

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