Saturday, November 5, 2011

Real Steel - Movie Review


Starring Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lilly, Anthony Mackie, Kevin Durand, Hope Davis and James Rebhorn. Directed by Shawn Levy.

Take a Wallace Beery movie, mix it in with some Stallone (primarily Rocky and Over the Top), and add fighting robots, and you've got Real Steel.

This movie works better than maybe it deserves to, but there's good reason for that. While, yes, it's ultimately about fighting robots, movies needs to have characters we care about, and the center of this movie is really about a father reconnecting with the son he abandoned as a baby.

Hugh Jackman plays Charlie Kenton, a former pro-boxer who turned to robot-boxing after the human sport died off. He's a hustler though, a man at the end of his rope due to mounting debt and an inability to win. Then he learns his former girlfriend is dead, and their son, whom he hadn't seen since he was a baby, is about to get adopted by his girlfriend's sister. Charlie sees an opportunity. The uncle involved is rich, so Charlie gets a payoff. In return, he'll watch the boy for the summer while the aunt and uncle vacation in Italy for two months.

Charlie's not quick to grow sentimental, nor is the boy Max (played impressively by Dakota Goyo) willing to grant immediate forgiveness for Charlie's eleven years of absense. One day while scavenging through a junkyard they find Atom, a sparring robot that is still in decent shape. The kid believes he can fix him up to be a good fighter, and there may or may not be a little advanced A.I. in there. The movie's coy about it, and that's fine.

The father/son story shifts to an underdog story, as the little robot manages to beat better, newer models thanks to his toughness and programming. The movie carried me along and made me care, even if the third act hits all the emotional buttons like a programmer. Its old-fashioned corniness still won me over.

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