Dir. by Shawn Levy - 2 hrs. 7 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
There are a number of contradictory statements that I need to get out of the way in regards to "Real Steel." First, this movie was a lot better than I figured it would be. Secondly, just because something is better than you think it's going to be doesn't mean that it's a good movie, necessarily. Thirdly, that also doesn't mean that because a movie is better than you expect and isn't exactly what you'd call good doesn't mean that it's bad, either. Got all that?
"Real Steel" is a movie about the world of robot fighting, which has replaced actual people fighting in the future, mainly due to the blood-thirsty nature of people who want to watch combat sports. So you can understand why I'd be a little skeptical - when the movie's quickie description boils down to CGI Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, it's easy to roll your eyes. Add into that stock characters like the down-and-out fighter, the estranged son, and the put-upon woman who's at the end of her rope with the fighter, and it's getting easier and easier to think that the only thing you're going to get is a big, dumb, loud movie. All the stock plot elements are there, as well (the hard-ass who gets won over by his kid while putting his life back together: redemption through offspring). I will not stand before you and testify that there is anything important I'm leaving out here; if you've seen more than a handful of sports movies, there's nothing here that will catch you by surprise.
But, like a catchy pop song, when you hit the right notes in the right order and keep things fun, things can happen. You may have heard the melody before, and the lyrics don't really bring anything new to the table, but that doesn't mean you can't shake your ass a little every now and then. That's what "Real Steel" brings to the table. The plot isn't special, but it does hit the right emotional points at the right time. And also, you get to see ten feet tall robots punch the crap out of each other. It's surprisingly satisfying; it's dehumanized carnage, and you don't have to worry about the health of the combatants. One of the funniest moments of the film occurs during one of the fights. Noisy Boy (yes, the robots all have names) loses one of his arms in the course of a fight, and a panicked Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) tries to throw a punch with the arm that isn't there. What ends up happening is that Noisy Boy sprays his oil all over the other robot, and you know there's going to be Hell to pay at that point.
The action in the film consistently delivers, which is pretty key here. The fights are logical, not just nonsense edited together into more nonsense. It might have taken a lot more work to put together logical fights that made sense, but if your central point is that robot boxing is the pre-eminent combat sport, it matters. The characters also do a fun job: Hugh Jackman has a sort of swagger to him that is consistent with the character that he's playing, and his conscience Bailey Tallet (Evangeline Lilly) is a welcome source of beauty and soft curves in a film that's comprised largely of testosterone and small Transformers.
"Real Steel" is a fun movie, a big, dumb movie, and a guy version of a tear-jerker at times, too. The whole package doesn't give any reason to expect much, but it does over-achieve. As I put it earlier, that doesn't make it a good movie, but it's also not a terrible one. That's a kind of a victory. If you can check your mind at the door, it's not a bad way to blow a couple of hours.
2.5 / 5 - Theatre