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Overall Rating
2.68

Awesome: 9.09%
Worth A Look: 4.55%
Average: 31.82%
Pretty Bad54.55%
Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 4 user ratings



Real Steel
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Did You Frak My Brother?"
2 stars

Because it is a film that offer up the spectacle of giant robots pounding the metallic stuffing out of each other in sanctioned fights and because it was co-produced by Don Murphy, the bombastic internet troll who helped shepherd the Transformers from the toy shelves to the silver screen, there has been some speculation that "Real Steel" is actually a big-screen version of the immortal Rock-em Sock-em Robots game. In fact, it is actually loosely based on "Steel," a short story by the acclaimed author Richard Matheson, whose works have inspired such projects as "Duel," "The Box" and any number of episodes of the classic television series "The Twilight Zone" (including an earlier adaptation of "Steel" starring Lee Marvin). Alas, fans of Matheson's work will find little to cheer about the film as it bears only the most tangential similarity to his original story while those looking for an entertaining night at the movies--even just on the base level of watching giant robots whomping on each other--will find themselves equally disappointed with an astonishingly imagination-free bore that plays like nothing so much as the hellish spawn of "Robojox" and the Ricky Schroeder version of "The Champ." Set in the not-too-distant future, Hugh Jackman stars as Charlie Kenton, a once-promising boxer who fell on hard times when the sport replaced human fighters with robotic pugilists. Now managing a string of one broken-down robot after another while trying (and often failing) to stay ahead of his creditors, Charlie learns that he has a heretofore unknown 11-year-old son, Max (Dakota Goyo), whose mother has just died and his signature is needed to officially sign the boy over to his exceedingly wealthy and snooty aunt (Hope Davis). Through circumstances too uninteresting to get into here, Charlie winds up being entrusted with the boy's care for the summer and while scouring a junkyard late at night for salvageable parts to help repair his latest disaster, the kid uncovers and salvages a complete robot that he dubs Atom. It turns out that Atom is an older model that was designed for sparring and nothing more but Max thinks that there is more to him than that, especially when it is discovered that Atom has a rare shadow function that allows him to perfectly mimic the moves of whatever he is watching.

Although Charlie is convinced that Atom won't last against any of the newer and more powerful robots, Max insists on entering him in an underground brawl at an abandoned zoo where the betting is not on whether Atom will win as much as whether it will survive the first round. As it turns out, Atom, like the great Jake LaMotta, has the uncanny ability to withstand astonishing amounts of punishment and then goes in for the kill once his opponents has pretty much exhausted themselves. After that initial success, Atom begins to slowly rise up in the ranks, even attracting the attentions of the people behind the evil champion robot, Zeus, who offer to buy Atom outright. Max turns down the offer outright and then publicly challenges the champion to a fight. In news that will no doubt shock many of you, the challenge is accepted and Charlie and Max, who have bonded along the way, prepare for the final bout and for a while, it seems that all is lost for Atom until they finally remember that rare shadow function that they were making a big deal about earlier. Hmm, you don't think that the fighter who never got his shot is going to finally put his skills to use in a big-time match at last, do you?

To give "Real Steel" credit, the robots are genuinely impressive sights to behold--utilizing a combination of animatronics, CGI animation and motion capture effects based on the moves of no less of a fighting icon than Sugar Ray Leonard himself, the robots are a joy to look at and, unlike so many CGi creations of late, actually have a convincing sense of weightiness to them that helps to sell the illusion. The problem is that nothing much of anything else in the film really works. Even by the fairly obvious standards of films involving boxing and/or long-lost fathers and sons being reunited, the screenplay is little more than a collection of extremely tired cliches that were exhausted decades ago, characters whose motivations inexplicably change from scene to scene for no real reason (Jackman's character is exceptionally confusing in the way that he is a jerk in one scene, a suddenly caring and devoted father in the very next one and a jerk again in the one after that) and sudden plot developments that are introduced with all the subtlety and grace of a robot punch to the face. Even the fights grow a little repetitive after a while as the begin to resemble nothing so much as a Black Eyed Peas video with only slightly better choreography. Oddly enough, the potentially interesting gimmick of the shadow function is mysteriously never exploited until the end, possibly because the sight of it in action as depicted here is so goofy that it makes the videogame box match in "Another Earth" look like "Raging Bull" by comparison.

` The flesh-and-blood performers are given relatively little to do other than to attempt to simulate a convincing eyeline for the special effects that would be added in later--the normally likable Jackman is hamstrung by playing a character who is a selfish and unlikable jerk for the most part, Goyo is your standard-issue obnoxious kid and Evangeline Lilly, as Jackman's sometime girlfriend/mechanic, has absolutely nothing to do except to convincingly demonstrate that she owns one of the best pair of stems to ever walk the earth. As for the bad guys, the film goes to extraordinarily extensive lengths to make sure that everyone in the audience realizes that they are pure evil--not only have they chosen to make Zeus's creator Japanese and its handler Russian (both of whom obviously stand out in the otherwise all-American proceedings) but the robot itself is of a suspiciously darker color than the others that we have seen. Now I am not suggesting that the filmmakers were consciously trying to evoke racist and xenophobic sentiments--the film is too mindless to have the nerve to do such a thing--but if someone were to lob such accusations their way, they would have a bit of difficulty defending themselves.

However, the biggest failing of "Real Steel" is that director Shawn Levy, the auteur of such cinematic classics as "A Night at the Museum" and the remakes of "Cheaper by the Dozen" and "The Pink Panther," completely fails at presenting us with a vision of the near-future that is even remotely convincing--one where, to judge by the ordinariness of the surroundings, there appears to have been no other technical innovations of note other than the rapid advancement in giant ass-kicking robot technology, one where, to judge by the astonishment that the shadow function inspires, in which the Wii never existed and one where, to judge by all the blatant product placement shots of it being guzzled by the little brat, Dr. Pepper apparently emerged as the surprise victor of the cola wars. (Presumably they had the better robots.) Look, I didn't go into the film expecting to see something as vividly designed as the likes of "Blade Runner" but I wish that just a little more effort had been put into developing the concept into something a little more convincing. My guess is that early on in the proceedings, it was decided that "Real Steel" was going to be aimed squarely at young kids and any extra effort along those lines would go to waste. To that end, the film probably does work on some dumb, fundamental level for children as a toy commercial come to noisy life but viewers above a certain age are likely to regard it as a disappointment. Let me put it this way--if you are savvy enough in regards to the genre to have recognized the title "Robojox" when I dropped it earlier in this review, you are definitely too advanced for this one.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=20589&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/07/11 14:00:53
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User Comments

8/24/12 edutra great, even if predictable and formulaic 5 stars
10/24/11 Theresa Rezler great movie would watcj it again 5 stars
10/15/11 KingNeutron Nice popcorn flick; kid wasnt the best actor, but I enjoyed it. 4 stars
10/07/11 PAUL SHORTT EXCITING AND WELL MADE 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  07-Oct-2011 (PG-13)
  DVD: 24-Jan-2012

UK
  N/A

Australia
  07-Oct-2011
  DVD: 24-Jan-2012


Directed by
  Shawn Levy

Written by
  John Gatins
  Les Bohem
  Dan Gilroy

Cast
  Hugh Jackman
  Dakota Goyo



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