From director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum, Date Night), ‘Real Steel’ is the a near future story of a down-on-his-luck ex-boxer (Hugh Jackman), failing to make it in the competitive world of robot boxing until estranged son Max (Dakota Goyo) comes back into his life and re-ignites his dreams of glory.
Considering the potential sci-fi mayhem that the concept of giant robots slugging it out could unleash on the audience, it’s a little disappointing to report that ‘Real Steel’ follows the tried and tested sports movie template, playing like a blow by blow re-run of the original ’Rocky’ (1979), albeit with a little less heart.
As the father and son team slowly and rather inevitably bond as they guide their hopelessly outdated sparring robot ‘Atom’ to the very pinnacle of the Real Steel championships, the robot action gets rather short shrift. Not only is the fight choreography a little uninspired - with the souped up fights displaying a less interesting range of moves than your average Audley Harrison bout - but the robot effects themselves never quite convey a sense of weight or power to these complex machines. At this realisation, I found my mind drawn back to the superb ABC Robot in 1995’s ‘Judge Dredd’, which, considering it predates this film by 15 years, was nevertheless about ten times as convincing.
All this may be a little unfair to a film that is clearly aimed at a family audience. Director Shawn Levy, as with his previous films, keeps a lightness of touch about the proceedings and on a positive note it is refreshing to see a vision of the future that isn’t predictably dark. Jackman’s performance, while not terrible, is a little uninspired, with only his weapons grade charisma eliciting sympathy for a character that would otherwise fall into the category of complete git. Dakota Goya, as Jackman’s son Max does his best with a sparse script that doesn’t give his obvious range a chance to shine, but he nevertheless gives us someone to root for, and it is interesting to see that father son duo form two halves of the perfect fighter. An interesting side note for comic book fans is Goya’s previous appearance in last Summer’s ‘Thor’ as the title character’s younger self in the opening scenes.
I’d like to say that their robotic charge, Atom gives a nuanced performance that leaves his co-stars in the shade, but despite some hints in the script that this robot displays a spark of true sentience, this part of the plot is never developed. Consequently there is an emotional vacuum that makes the fights all the less compelling. He does at least display more in terms of character development than Lost’s Evangeline Lily, whose appearance as the token love interest is a waste considering the range of storylines her character progressed through in the famous television show.
Overall, despite my grumbles, ‘Real Steel’ was an entertaining evening, the kind of film I might have enjoyed watching with my dad and brother growing up in the eighties. It’s a shame that time and tastes have moved on and that ultimately audiences, young and old, expect something a little more sophisticated than this rather predictable beat-em-up. One to rent, and only then if ‘I, Robot’ and ‘A.I.’ are all booked out.
Sorry Hugh, but Real Steel is not the Real Deal. Deliver with ‘The Wolverine’ and all is forgiven.
Robert Barton-Ancliffe continues to enjoy the adventures of Calculon in All My Circuits.