Real Steel, the "It’s not Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, but it is!” movie, was my first sci-fi genre outing of the fall. I was dragged into it by the missus, who has an uncanny fondness for Hugh Jackman (get it?). And, despite myself, I enjoyed it.
Make no mistake; this movie is utterly simplistic, woefully predictable, but also completely charming. This is not a robot movie with the story of a father and his estranged son thrown in. This is the story of a deadbeat dad developing a lasting relationship with his son, that happens to have robots.
Hugh (because he goes by his first name in our household) plays Charlie Kenton, a washed up boxer who saw his dreams fade away with the rise of robot boxing. He’s an impatient man with more talent than sense, who has wasted every opportunity given to him, and should be penniless and alone. He’s not. But he’s close.
Charlie is so despicable that not only does he welch on his bets, but he tries to sell his son for more money. He’s one of those people who can get away with this because he’s naturally charming. I’m told that Hugh can make this believable because he’s a "master thespian."
Because we need more of a story than Hugh being a bad boy, Charlie, for reasons of financial convenience, gets stuck with Max, who is played by Dakota Goyo without that annoying smugness of child actors, the sort that says, "Hey, I’m only 10, but I’m already more successful than you!"
Charlie and Max bond after finding Atom, a robot buried in the junkyard that is a something of a mystery. He’s an old sparring bot, built only to let other robots punch him, but he’s got software he shouldn’t have, and maybe he even has a soul, or the beginning of AI. The movie toys with the idea of this, but ultimately, and probably wisely, abandons the concept in favor of robots punching robots.
This brings me to the best part of the movie; robots punching robots!
There’s something primal about it, something in the DNA of every nerd who’s ever dreamed of a future of robots walking among us. I now believe we want this for no other reason than so we can watch them tear each other apart.
These aren’t George Lucas’ simpering battle droids or Asimov’s enlightened robots who want only to serve man. These are more like Terminators. They are warriors with names Ambush and Zeus who provide entertainment to the masses by entering the ring and exerting thousands of pounds of pressure into fists that punch each other again, and again, and again, and again.
Imagine how much cooler Rocky vs Apollo would have been if they were cyborgs, and you get a bit of the appeal of this movie to me.
Charlie and Max fix up Atom and train him, and much to Charlie’s surprise, the little sparring bot that he thought was scrap, with the heart of gold and the love of a pure child wins a few fights. Cue the big time.
The characters grow, and Charlie comes to realize he has to fight more than robots if he wants to succeed in life. The people he owes money to come to collect once they start getting ahead, so there’s danger for Hugh.
And love. Apparently, Evangeline Lilly, who plays Bailey, the on again, off again romantic interest of Charlie is one lucky woman. As it’s explained to me, she has kissed Josh Holloway, Mathew Fox, Nathan Fillion, and now Hugh. This is important, if not to the movie, than at least in my household, but I’m not sure how.
A person could do worse than seeing Real Steel, so long as you don’t mind being sold to. This near future is brought to you by HP, Dr. Pepper, Sprint, and Del Taco, among others.
The movie is so profuse with product placement that I expected Hugh’s face to have a deodorant logo on it. If it did, I would soon be using a new brand. Hugh’s brand.
For more on the movie, go to its official site, which has the excellent name Steel Gets Real.