This film is generally a crowd pleaser in the sense of the underdog story it’s rooted upon. The plot is a familiar setup that has been done time and time again yet it adds its own spin that does separate it enough to be fun. The aspect of the robots replacing human boxers in the ring is intriguing. The scenes with the robots don’t disappoint in the least and I hate giant robots. The combination of human interaction with the robots they control is balanced enough to not make this film all about robots and what destruction they can do in the boxing arena.
Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman, which I’m a fan of), really steps into his role and makes his character so cold, selfish and dislikable. He is a loner basically and has a mind focused solely on the next robot-battling gig he can scratch up. He, at one time, was a boxer but was average at best although he always gave it his absolute all. The back-story for him is summed up best that he was to be a warm up fight for the current champion boxer before a major title bout. Charlie played the classic underdog position and actually pushed the champion farther than was expected to before being knocked out. The movie runs it’s course along the same path but with the eventual robot he uses in place of himself.
The story includes Charlie’s son Max (Dakota Goyo) who is a pleasant surprise. Honestly, in my own opinion of course, having a kid as a main character (cough, Star Wars Episode I, cough) can utterly bring the age level for a film too far down to be liked by us older folk. For the performance given by Jackman, being one of his best, the movie would suffer overall if this kid didn’t do well.
The underground world of robot fighting is very exciting and entertaining. The eventual father and son team go to an old run down zoo where you get a comedic and energetic taste of what some robot battling is about. The official world of the robot battling is dead-on, with the robots being intently controlled by a team of computer nerds. Charlie has a robot with a shadow function he eventually uses to fight mirroring his own movements which is so dynamic and quite fun to watch. The fight with Twin Towers was possibly the best as Charlie found a way to win based on his experience as a fighter that the nerds didn’t have controlling their robot. I’m sure the final battle against Zeus wouldn’t have been so close but it represents Charlie as a boxer carrying over to the robot battle. A close fight in which the champion was supposed to win easily but couldn’t.
OK, moving away from adulations of joy, let’s hit the film where it hurts. I’d like to look at two moments wherein I find a hitch of despair. In the recycling yard when Max finds Atom, his new robot pal, he manages to get a 1,000lb robot out and to the truck. It leaves much to the imagination as to how that happened. Did an old man working at the recycling yard have pity on the young lad and help him somehow, possibly with a crane, get the robot out? My view is it’s a bit too much to look over that he did it alone. It caught my attention both times I’ve seen the flick and it ever so slightly takes away from the film. How did he do it? It’s not a plot breaker or awkward scene so it fades to the background and out of most viewers memories quickly. The second of the moments is the final battle, Zeus vs. Atom, in the world of “Real Steel” it would strongly seem Atom was doomed for utter failure. He takes beating after beating against a superior robot. Atom does mirror well other robots but Zeus does seem to be able to break a generation two robot’s armor, which Atom had. I want to think outside the plot for a moment, was Atom a special robot built by a genius designer who met an untimely death? Was his robot so cutting edge that it was lost in a recycling yard abyss? I pondered as I do over plot points that make me use my imagination to rectify said points.
Outside of these two moments I like the film immensely. It has a great sense of warmth and spirit that usually doesn’t come in a movie with giant robots. The scene as Max finally calls Charlie his dad at the end is obviously seen coming but still really touches you as you see those two connect as a family. An earlier moment when Max tells Charlie to fight for him, meaning that’s all he wanted from his father practically pulls a tear from your eye. Charlie struggles with being a father and fails throughout until Max delivers this begging statement. The two go through cliché moments but manage to make it fresh and meaningful. The film is filled with laughter, action and heart with a story that is begging for an audience to entertain. It’s absolutely a delightful movie.
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