In Real Steel — a movie about boxing robots — Hugh Jackman looks as if he’s about to jump out of his skin. Forced to compete with tons of clanging heavy metal, an amped-up Jackman always seems to be trying for a knockout as a former boxer who now competes in the world of robot pugilism. The sport, if that’s what it is, looks like a cross between cage fighting and professional wrestling.
For 27 years, Robert Denerstein was the film critic at The Rocky Mountain News. Read more of Robert's reviews at Denerstein Unleashed.
Look, robot boxing isn’t a half bad idea for a movie: Set in the near future, Real Steel suggests that we’ve reached a point where men no longer beat each other to a pulp, but use robots to channel their aggression. Too bad, a woefully unsophisticated script ties robot boxing to a sappy and overly familiar father/son story.
Jackman plays Charlie, a neglectful father who, during the course of the movie, gets to know his 11-year-old son (Dakota Goyo). It seems Charlie, an archetype of irresponsibility, skipped out on the boy’s mother when he learned she was pregnant. After Mom’s death, Charlie agrees to spend a summer with his son, providing the boy’s uncle pays him off.
You needn’t have studied film theory to know that the initial testiness between father and son will develop into something more affectionate. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but director Shawn Levy, best know for his work on the Night at the Museum series, doesn’t exactly demonstrate a deft touch.
The supporting cast includes Hope Davis, as the boy’s aunt, and Anthony Mackie, as a fight promoter, but people are secondary to the boldly presented smash-and-crash robot fights that develop as Charlie and son advance the career of Atom, a discarded sparring robot that earns a shot at the title.
Real Steel is far too predictable to garner much respect, but it did leave me with one question: Why wasn’t it released during the summer, when it’s a lot easier to forgive noise, immaturity and an onslaught of cliches?