Real Steel Review: Genuine Mettle

October 13, 2011 by  
Filed under - Home, Film Reviews

REAL STEEL (12A): On General Release Friday 14th October

Who remembers Rock’em Sock’em Robots, the children’s game in which plastic robots battled it out in bouts of pugilistic violence which more often than not ended with someone going home crying?  Well, that high concept is now a movie in the shape of Real Steel.

It’s the near future. Hugh Jackman stars as Charlie Kenton, a down on his luck former boxer who now dabbles in the sport of robot boxing – bouts between 12 foot metal men that often leave the loser literally in pieces.  He’s up to his neck in debt when he’s forced into taking care of his unwanted 11 year old son Max (Dakota Goya) when Max’s mother dies.

Luckily Max knows a thing or two about robots and after repurposing an old sparring robot that he names Atom as a fighter, he starts winning low level fights, eventually getting a shot at the big time as the promoters of the World Robot Boxing League sit up and take notice.

It’s testament to how much of a likable screen presence Hugh Jackman is that he manages to make Charlie wholly sympathetic even while he’s doing reprehensible things (trying to sell Max to his aunt and wealthy partner, running out on bad debts, mugging like a champ with Evangeline Lilly).

Dakota Goya is more hit and miss.  He’s engagingly tenacious when it comes to fighting for his robot and arguing with Charlie but whoever scripted the scenes in which he does a little entrance dance to go with Atom’s appearances deserves to be rapped on the nose with a rolled up newspaper.

The robot fights themselves are well choreographed and because they’re based on motion capture rather than CGI, they have a believable weight; the dents and clangs of the combatants make it easy to get behind the heroes; the mangled mess of metal espoused by the likes of Transformers is thankfully nowhere in sight.

In the quieter moments there are tantalising hints that Atom might be more than just a machine – an angle which unfortunately is left undeveloped as it would have made a more interesting premise than simply “Rocky with robots”.

Real Steel is essentially a sports movie and every sports movie needs to navigate the perilous pitfalls of cliché.  Warrior did this admirably a few weeks ago, wearing familiar tropes proudly safe in the knowledge that its heart and acting skill could carry it through.

Real Steel is similarly full of cliché but lacks the chops to really pull it off. Max’s relationship with Atom is heart-warming if cynically constructed – there are numerous moments when a neon flashing sign reading “BE SAD NOW” could have flashed up on screen.  Nevertheless, when the two are interacting with each other, it’s easy to forget that Atom is a robot.

Less successful is the relationship between Charlie and Bailey his former trainer’s daughter and romantic interest which feels duct-taped on as an unnecessary extra and the villain of the piece, Farra Lemkova (Olga Fonda) whose entire character is based around her scowling and spouting icily cheesy putdowns.

There’s also a hideously misjudged opening sequence in which Charlie’s robot has a fight with a bull which is in extreme poor taste.  Quite why it was included is a mystery unless it was to add formidable weight to the side of the scales marked “Charlie is a bastard”.

But this blip and some laughable clichés aren’t enough to discourage the innate likability of Real Steel – a good, mostly family friendly (bull bashing notwithstanding), boxing drama with some genuine heart.  Hungry Hungry Hippos: The Movie is surely only moments away.

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  1. Kaze says:

    Actually, Real Steel isn’t Rock Em Sock Em Robots but a movie produced by multi Academy Awards winners Steven Spielberg & Robert Zemeckis and based on a short story written by Richard Matheson in 1956, called Steel, that was turned into a Twilight Zone (search on Wikipedia for STEEL) The Twilight Zone episode aired in 1963, Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots game debuted in 1964 so this movie is based on the story, not the toys. ET, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park and Back to the Future comes from the same kind of entertainment. Real Steel has received a lot of positive reviews worldwide, including from prestigious critics. Real Steel Is #.1 at the Weekend U.S. Box Office.

  2. Jez Sands says:

    Thanks for that bit of marketing blurb, I commend your ability to paraphrase Wikipedia. I never said it was based on Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, merely that robots punching each other is something that they both have in common. Its origins are anyway largely irrelevant – the review still stands. It’s a decent if unremarkable robot sports movie. Top of the box office? Since when does that matter – so was Transformers 3 and Pirates Of The Caribbean 3 – both of which are balls.

  3. John Fraser says:

    Jez – I think you reviews in general are very harsh and draconian. Are you aware that prospective viewers of films want to know whether they will enjoy a film not how Oscar winning films are going to be. For a start Transformers 3 is one of the best films ever. POTC3 i found myself bored, however my 10 year old daughter really enjoyed it.

    I think you should become less biased with your reviewing.

    OTB user for 4 years.


  4. Dave_rave says:

    Whilst i appreciate everyone has their opinion. I believe yours to be wrong. Jez Sands you really need do need to be less draconian in your approach to reveiwing. Well said John.

  5. Jez Sands says:

    Of course I’m aware that people want to see a film based on enjoyment. First and foremost I’m a movie fan – I love cinema and I hope that comes across in the movies that I do like. But I would be doing myself and others a disservice if I didn’t point out the problems and criticisms I have of movies that could do much better.

    And if I’ve said that a film deserves Oscars, it’s because they should be commended for the good stuff they contain, not for any other reason.

    In regards to the first comment – just because Real Steel comes from a good stable, doesn’t mean that it should be immediately praised. I love Spielberg, he’s made some of my favourite films as has Zemeckis. But you can’t overlook some of the turkeys they have made too.

    I don’t think I’m draconian – I like movies that are fun as well as serious – see my reviews for Thor or Final Destination 5 – both dumb but fun movies. And regarding Transformers 3 – sorry I don’t see it.

    Less biased? Biased towards what exactly? What I write is my opinion – by their very nature, they’re biased.

  6. Kelly Jones says:

    I think there’s a bit of Jez-bashing going on here. I read all of Jez’s reviews and, whilst I don’t always agree with his opinion, I always find them to be well written and researched.