Cert: 12 A Runtime: 127 mins Director: Shawn Levy Cast: Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lilly and Anthony Macky
Courage is stronger than steel
The movie is “ROCKY-sock ’em robots.” Based loosely on a Richard Matheson short story Steel, that was first adapted as an episode of “Twilight Zone” back in the ’60s, the movie is thoroughly predictable and not terribly original, but surprisingly, I found myself enjoying it very much all the same.The gist of the story; Hugh Jackman plays a down-on-his-luck, amoral (at first) ex- boxer/con man who now trains, commands robot boxers for small venue fighting. He discovers he has a son from a former (now deceased) lover. Max (Dakota Goyo) is a shamelessly cute, cynical moppet who carefully rides the fine line between brat and victim. The central story is really about the estranged pair reconciling over their mutual love of robot boxing and a particular robot; a washed up, rusted out, Rocky-esque junker named Atom. There is a love interest for Jackman, a lovely female mechanic played by LOST’s Evangeline Lily who is always in Jackman’s corner… kind of a thankless ‘cheerleader’ for the boys. But nicely played, anyway. The acting (especially for this kind of movie) is pretty solid and keeps the audience emotionally invested despite the ‘seen it all before’ structure of the story.
I’m at the age where Im more or less watching movies like this with either my critical brain, or my emotional brain. They do get together sometimes. But more often these days, I have to consciously CHOOSE to watch something with one or the other. The critical half of my brain had ALL kinds of issues with “Real Steel”; it’s almost ridiculously predictable. If you’ve ever seen Rocky? Just add a estranged kid and a robot and stir. But anyway, let’s get down to details. For starters, the music a very disappointing Danny Elfman score is almost a note-for-note ripoff of Bill Conti’s Rocky music. Outside, in the lobby as we were leaving, it almost sounded like a Rocky movie’s end credit music was playing behind us. This may, in fact, be the first really lousy, and genuinely mediocre Danny Elfman score I’ve ever heard. But the music wasn’t the only thing that was predictable. The films’ structure is so by- the-numbers at times; estranged parent-kid meet, have a rough time at first, get to bond, form a strong attachment, are torn asunder, and of course, get one last BIG chance at the end to ‘make it all right’ again. They even grafted the first Rocky fight almost punch-for-punch onto the robot action for the big climax. Anyone going to this movie looking for surprises will find none. At times I wondered if the Steel in the title shouldn’t have had an A in the middle, replacing the second E. Critically speaking, the movie was on the ropes; it couldn’t even get it’s arms up to block my critical brain’s jabs and upper-cuts. But then, a curious thing happened on the emotional brain side ….. I found myself enjoying it anyway. Now, my ’emotional-brain’ will attempt to explain why; well for one, Real Steel it’s well acted Hugh Jackman’s got a lot to do with that; following the old fashioned, ‘rogue-to-nice-guy’ route very expertly, it’s got lots of robots beating the crap out of each other robots fighting is nothing new these days, but unlike Transformers, these are robots who actually require human controllers and are not racial/ethnic stereotypes either, it has boxing and pit/cage style fighting and it has a lot of the same heart and on-the- sleeve emotion almost of the best of the ROCKY movies. Now, make no mistake; I like the Rocky movies. So, what happens when you combine these elements? Well, for a average guy this formula is like catnip. I almost literally felt my inner ten year old shadow punching right alongside the robots in the movie, and also wanting to cheer over fight scenes that were totally unsurprising. Hugh Jackman really makes it work; he falls right into the role of a broken ex- boxer/manager like an old pair of Everlast gloves. He’s Rocky AND Mickey kind of rolled into one. Lily is his Adrian; a capacity she is later replaced in by Max Goyo, to his credit does a great job; again, treading that fine line between ‘go play in the freeway’ and ‘please, oh please hit a home run for me, Mr. Ruth…’
As I’ve said; it’s seriously clichéd, but it’s also a lot of fun and it wears it’s heart unapologetically on it’s sleeve. Maybe clichés are clichés because by and large they still work. I’m not sure, but I think this is what they used to call ‘good family entertainment’ once upon a time…. If one has kids particularly 10 yr old boys? You could do a hell of a lot worse than having a great father/son bonding day over this one! Robots beating each other into crap, nicely humanized (if clichéd) characters, and good ol’ fashioned emotional investment. If I were ten? I wouldn’t be here writing this; I’d be queuing up in line to see this one again… So, in a stunning upset, the emotional side of my brain wins this match in a surprising, last- round knockout!7.0/10