Plot: A hustling ex-boxer rebuilds an old robot with his estranged son to fight in a futuristic robot-boxing tournament.
Thoughts: Despite regularly obvious plot-lines and worn-out emotional triumphs, boxing movies seem to forever find themselves the undisputed champions of the sports-drama genre. Hard-fisted knockouts and powerfully affectionate bonds allow the “true” underdog stories to merge with Hollywood beautifully, usually forming a tough and often heart-warming tale that, although heavily predictable, tugs on the heart strings and creates a gloriously jubilant picture. ‘Real Steel’ works in exactly the same way, but with robots.
Although startlingly clear and blatant in its presentation, ‘Real Steel’ packs both heart and action-packed robotic death-matches into its rather extended running time. The film builds its backstory well, an almost hazardously slow but aptly-structured opening making room for growth and excitement, laying the foundations for what will soon become a rather involving blockbuster. It is here however, that the movie is at its weakest. Plagued by exaggerated supporting performances and a slow-releasing and tragically disappointing action sequence, it slugs along rather joylessly until finally picking up its real plot and path around the 30 minute mark.
From here on the pace picks up a little, allowing enough room for some cleverly written and well-acted engagements between Hugh Jackman’s rocky ex-boxer Charlie and his delightfully arrogant son Max, but it must be said that even after some fatherly bonding, the characters don’t become anything even close to likable until at least half-way in.
Director Shawn Levy’s major issue here is subtly, and the lack of it. To make the character changes and lessons crystal clear, he portrays the leads as rather insufferably mean and ignorant nobodies at the very beginning, paving the way for their eventual and thankfully, supportive change. It’s also due to this lack of subtly that, for any viewers that have seen a boxing movie or two in the past, the film’s direction is almost worryingly apparent. There’s no twists, no unexpected turns, it takes the exact route you expect it to.
The acting is believably decent for a picture of this calibre; Jackman’s made no secret of how hard he trained for said part and although it shows, it doesn’t always seem totally necessary. As a washed-up former fighter, Charlie Kenton is decidedly bitter but still possesses the body and build of a full-time contender, questioning his real motivation. Young Dakota Goyo offers some light-hearted and charming support as Kenton’s son Max, his performance indistinct and no-doubt forgettable, but still manages to provide plenty of laughs and proves to be a strong pillar to lean on in times of trouble. Evangeline Lilly rounds off the cast as the foxy gym-hand, allowing the simple romantic elements of the script to flow flawlessly but in the process, limiting her usefulness to the main story.
The true defining feature of ‘Real Steel’ though is of course the groundbreaking effects. Audience’s have come to expect solid and glossy CGI from anything promising robots and action and this film truly defies expectations. Each fight is handled with careful precision and realism, most timings are spot on and the figures themselves fit in perfectly with the look and feel of the feature. The movie demonstrates previously unparalleled special effects and a clear and contemporary use for them, never finding itself using computer rendering for no good reason, although occasionally over-stepping the mark a tiny bit.
Ultimately though, ‘Real Steel’ provides plenty of classic Hollywood fun, but at a price; it being the over-zealous scripting and agonizingly straightforward narrative. If you’ve seen Rocky and Transformers Levy’s latest won’t provide anything new, but will most likely offer a 2 hour extravaganza of solidly enjoyable and mindless robot-infused action sequences, partnered with an unashamedly cheesy yet powerful emotional centre. Sure it’s bubbling with boxing clichés and sickening product-placement, but ‘Real Steel’ is in no way a bad movie, just an unashamedly unsubtle display of video-game style combat. Watch with a vacant mind.