Michael Bay should be taking notes; this is how you make a movie about robots hitting each other. Kidding aside, Shawn Levy (most famous for directing the two Night at the Museum movies) has delivered an undoubtedly fun, if flawed, blockbuster, which whether it fully succeeds or not at least has a good solid attempt at mixing heart and emotion with spectacle.
Real Steel takes place sometime in the future when human boxing has become obsolete and has been replaced with robot boxing. We specifically follow Charlie (Hugh Jackman), a former boxer who now makes a cash-strapped living controlling the giant robots in prize fights. Charlie suddenly has to take care of his 11 year old son, Max (Dakota Goyo), whose mother has just died and he’s never spent any time with him. One day they discover an old discarded sparring robot which they decide to fix up and “train” to fight.
Real Steel attempts to fuse together a father-son struggling relationship story with all-out spectacular action. And while it may lean a bit too much on the sentiment, threatening (and often succeeding) to overshadow the spectacle – “cheesy” is a perfect description for it at times – the film at least makes the effort to be about more than just action. The developing relationship for the most part feels genuine thanks to the performances by Jackman and Goyo (who was last seen briefly as the younger version of Marvel’s mighty Thor), who are convincing even when the script isn’t doing the best job of it.
However, when it really comes down to it, what most audiences will pay to see Real Steel for is the action (the robot boxing scenes); and they are quite simply awesome, to use the parlance of our times. Thankfully, each one is clear to see, no shaky cam or overly rapid editing (something which the Transformers movies can only partly boast of in Dark of the Moon) and, crucially, you actually care about the robots that are fighting. And not to mention that fact you can actually tell them apart from one another. This is robots hitting each other with a purpose.
Hampered by a script too often pre-occupied with sentimentality, one-liners, and a general by-the-numbers mentality, Real Steel isn’t the great movie it could have been. But nevertheless it is a highly enjoyable post-summer blockbuster when it delivers regular bursts of extremely well done, often awe-inspiring, action which really gets you invested. Thumbs up.