Real Steel hovers between being a kids’ film and a standard action blockbuster, which may throw some people off a bit. The film stars Hugh Jackman as Charlie Kenton, a former boxer turner robot boxing manager who leads a reckless life to say the least. Things get complicated for Charlie when he learns his estranged son, eleven-year-old Max (Dakota Goyo), has to spend the summer with him because his mother has died. Charlie, questionable character that he is, has struck a deal to watch his son for a few months in exchange for money from Max’s uncle. The movie dwells in melodrama for a bit, but of course, Max and Charlie form an unlikely partnership as they take a robot, Atom, on the road and work up the ranks of the robot boxing world.
There’s a lot to digest with the story in Real Steel but it is actually very easy to follow. It’s just that the film takes a while to get going. Perhaps it doesn’t really take all that long to get to meat of the film, but it certainly seems that way since it is painfully obvious where the film is going. That’s where the kids’ movie aspect comes into play. There are no surprises to this film and there is never a real sense of danger. Sometimes it is downright goofy, actually. All that is fine, but some serious and potentially interesting aspects are handled strangely or just left out completely. For example, Max is a boy who has just lost his mother, yet the kid seems awfully chipper. Sure, not many people want to watch a movie in which a small boy cries about his dead mother, but don’t make the kid seem so okay with it, either. Or better yet, let’s not make the mother dead. How about having the mother stay alive and just make Charlie look after the kid? Why the unnecessary depressing aspect that never comes to fruition?
Perhaps that is looking into the film too far, but some (me, obviously) might focus on a plot point like that. But Real Steel isn’t meant to be a Nicholas Sparks film or anything, so it’s not all that big of a deal, though it still seems unnecessary. The film might’ve been hampered by it if not for the action. The fight scenes are all very well done and are even compelling at times. The robots look like they are actually onscreen most of the time and feel like actual characters now and then. If you’re just looking for some robots pounding on each other, this film will not disappoint.
Hugh Jackman also keeps the film going. The man is charismatic enough to turn a morally bankrupt character like Charlie into a likable person. There’s not much heavy lifting here for him, but he still does a good job keeping the non-fighting scenes interesting. The supporting cast is fine, but unfortunately the child actor Dakota Goyo is a bit on the annoying side. His performance is reminiscent of Jake Lloyd in The Phantom Menace, and that is definitely not a compliment. Some of his “cute” moments are unbearable, but others (perhaps fellow children) may identify with him and even be entertained.
The film should also appeal to boxing movie fans. There are training scenes and a montage and the fights themselves are very similar to other boxing movies in that real strategy is used. It’s not like the old game where you frantically push buttons in hopes of winning. These robots are controlled by remote, voice, and mimicking (or shadow boxing). That makes the fights much more interesting, especially when the shadow boxing comes into play. Unfortunately the shadow boxing doesn’t get utilized enough.
Overall, Real Steel is entertaining and may even tug at the heart strings of a few viewers. It might be too long (at least fifteen minutes could’ve been cut) and some aspects might be too childish for some viewers, but there is still enough there to make the ticket worth it. It’s not particularly memorable and no one will be talking about it a couple weeks from now, but Real Steel is a fine way to spend an afternoon. Don’t look too deep into it, though. But why would you anyway? It is, after all, a Rock’em Sock’em Robots movie.