01 March 2012

Movies: Real Steel

Real Steel (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0433035/

Sci-fi action

Human-controlled robot boxing has eclipsed human boxing as a sport. This isn't Battle Bots®, these are giant human-ish looking robots slugging it out in the ring.  Charlie Kenton is an ex-boxer that goes out on the road with his beat up trailer and beat up robot taking jobs wherever he can. He owes lots of people money, and continues to dig himself deeper in the debt hole. Charlie finds out his ex-wife, who he hasn't had contact with in 10 years or so, has died and he has to attend a custody hearing for his 11-year old son, Max. Charlie's ex-wife's sister wants custody of Max. When Charlie reaches the hearing he realizes his ex-sister-in-law's husband Marvin is a man of obvious means. When Marvin approaches Charlie about maybe watching Max for a few months so Marvin doesn't have to bring Max on vacation, Charlie suggests Marvin pay him $100,000 in exchange for watching Max and not fighting for custody.  With half the $$ up front Charlie invests in a new robot to fight.

So yeah, you probably have an idea which direction this estranged father and son story is likely going to go.  I suppose that's the "heart" of the film.

Before watching the film I had a preconceived notion this was "Rock'em Sock'em Robots" turned into a film. How could it not be?  I mean, "Clue" was turned into a film. "Battleship" is due in theaters soon. I think "Candy Land" is in the pipe as well. So it wasn't much of a stretch to anticipate "Rock'em Sock'em Robots". For all I know it was pitched as "Rock'em Sock'em Robots: The Movie", got turned down by whoever, then got made under the "Real Steel" title instead.

The rest of the story has a serious "Rocky" vibe with a bit of "Over the Top" thrown in. Probably gunning for a "The Champ" vibe in some ways too.

No matter. Special effects-wise, robot fighting and stuff, it looked great. Makes you want to watch real giant robots pounding the fluids out of each other in the ring. Sure there's times where the 'technology' is a bit too unreal and controlling interfaces shown are a bit too simple to account for the robot's movements in the ring, but suspension of disbelief works well enough to let that slide.
Acting, no problem. Hugh Jackman rarely disappoints and does fine as Charlie. The kid playing Max holds his own no problem. A lot of the time the kid comes off as more an adult than Charlie, but I'm sure that's intentional. The kid still does impulsive kid-things, so he isn't entirely unrealistically mature. The rest of the supporting cast does fine but their characters don't require much depth to them either. The antagonists are generic cardboard stereotypes. We aren't subjected to having to worry much about anyone except when necessary for the main story progression.
There is some unanswered questions, like the origin of the 'bot. It's supposed to be a discontinued generation 2 sparring model, but it exhibits behaviors that must be unique because the people 'in the know' are surprised at its effectiveness. Except they never really explore that side of the story. The film even hinted at a possibility of robot self-awareness in one scene, but never pursued that either.
The emotional side of the film, when you really think about it, is almost appalling. Call it what you want, but no matter how you slice it Charlie sold his child to his dead ex-wife's sister's husband. So how is someone supposed to consider this a heartfelt story? How is Charlie supposed to be likable?

All in all, it's an entertaining watchable film. Pure escapist fare that attempts to have an emotional side, probably so couples can watch it together. Not exactly an original story in many respects, but the fighting robots make it ok.  I liked it more than Transformers mostly because it actually had a story. Transformers is just a couple hours of specialeffectsexplosionfest.

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