If you thought you were finished with robot movies for 2011, you were wrong. Behold “Real Steel,” part Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots part “Rocky,” containing just about every sports-movie stereotype ever committed to celluloid.
Loosely based on a Richard Matheson short story called “Steel,” which also became a “Twilight Zone” episode, “Real Steel” is set in the near future where all human sport fighting is illegal and robot boxing has replaced boxing and mixed martial arts. The film follows down-on-his-luck robot boxing trainer Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) who loses one fight too many, owes a few pennies to a long line of promoters, neglects his mechanic lady friend (Evangeline Lily) and unexpectedly gains temporary custody of his estranged, no-nonsense son Max (Dakota Goyo).
Together father and son must overcome their differences and discover that they both need each other in life, as well as in the sport of robot boxing.
Hot-headed Charlie only has eyes for cash, and is too blind to see that he’s now the little man on campus. When Max discovers a sparring robot (not meant for actual challenges) and insists his bot can bring down the world champion, Charlie must overcome his pride and stubbornness and put his faith in his son.
“Real Steel” is targeted for young boys. The 10 to 14 year-old male demo should be blown away by the robot fighting scenes and easily connect with the ambitious and rambunctious Max. Hugh Jackman gives a surprisingly heartfelt and varied performance as the washed-up ex-boxer. His transition from a sleazy robot trainer to a loving father is moving and not too sappy, and the dynamic between Jackman and Goyo is entertaining.
Unfortunately director Shawn Levy (“Night at the Museum”) takes us on a long journey.
A very long journey.
The predicable plot makes viewing "Real Steel" a real ordeal. The effects are spectacular and the robot fights are glossy and cool but the epic journey to that final bell is an arduous one. The story works better in its original format: short.