Real Steel (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Real Steel (2011)

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Trust me, Hugh Jackman appears without a shirt at least once in this movie.

You might make the mistake of thinking Real Steel is as much of an underdog as its heroes but, really, that would require quite a bit of projection.  I nearly gave up an hour in and were it not for some well placed words of encouragement I would have danced the night away free of the forced daddy issues and mountains of pathos.  But in this film, as well as in life, sometimes it just takes an Australian punk with weasel teeth to make things much sweeter.

Real Steel tries mixing the colorful robots of Transformers and the basic plot of the Rocky movies into the greatest cartoon never made.  The problem is the film centers entirely around characters who are narcissistic and mean.  Great movies are made out of cruel and shallow folks, but the attitudes of Charlie (Hugh Jackman) and his son Max (Dakota Goyo) are at odds with the rock 'em sock 'em nature of watching a robot with a Mohawk fight a two headed giant.

This is actually the second film in as many weeks which seems to be trying to recapture the spirit of the 80's in some way.   Maybe with all of the Obama backlash people are attempting to reconstruct the culture Reagan-era times was producing in the hopes of bringing about the next great Conservative revolution.  This film is almost perfect evidence since we have an all-white band of ne'er do wells attempting to stand up against evil foreign powers armed with advanced technology.

Charlie controls robot boxers that have taken the place of actual human fighting and he was once a prize fighter before a career ending injury railroaded him into a redemption plot.  Considering he starts the film off by selling his son after the mother dies, he has quite the long path before he could be considered likable.  But since his son is an angry and unhelpful little sod it doesn't really make for the most appealing pairing.

Don't expect a movie filled with this...

So after Charlie runs afoul of bad luck and local gangsters (headed up by the incredibly underappreciated Kevin Durand) they go salvaging for parts.  Now, at this point in the story it's been nothing but dire special effects, long lingering gazes over fields of wheat, and an overcast sky that doesn't know how to follow any discernible weather pattern.  It's so serious and dire the sight of robots wrestling bulls just takes on a sad plausibility instead of being any kind of fun.

Then, in the junkyard, comes one of the most wildly implausible plot points instantly changes the movie.  Max falls down what is essentially a waterfall only to be caught by the arm of a robot that happens to save him from his death.  He wants to salvage the robot after his father saves him but, after being a bit of a ponce again, his father decides to leave him alone at the end of the waterfall to carry the robot back himself.

Now, Max is obviously successful, but it's noted later on the robot (eventually dubbed Atom) is 1,000 lbs.  This means a father forced his 12-year old child to carry a robot which weighs a ton up a waterfall and into a wheelbarrow three miles back to the van.  This is something so wildly implausible it seems the filmmakers all clicked at once and realized, "Holy hell.  We're not making On The Waterfront.  We're making Play It To The Bone with robots."

And then the creepy sexual intonations start in.

...instead more of this. Pensive. Placid. Pathos. So much pathos. Dead mother only mentioned twice. Pathos pathos pathos pathos.

The robot is a surrogate father figure and Max almost kisses the robot in one of the most disturbing "bonding" scenes I'm sure to see all year.  There's the complete absence of female characters to serve as any sort of effective maternal figure.  Then the strange supporting characters start pouring out of the woodwork like so many hungry termites, feasting on gratuitous accents and scenery-chewing.

Almost as quickly as the movie lost me, it instantly had me back and zipped ahead at much improved pace and sense of fun.  A lot of it reminded me of old episodes of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, with a lot of sly winks and "aw, shucks" humor as the little robot could and it's terribly damaged handlers.  But it just wasn't enough for me to recommend.

There's a lot I can forgive, but basing an hour of a fighting robot film on the works of Wim Wenders is not one of them.  Now, Buster Keaton and Bullwinkle?  That's a little better.

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Real Steel (2011)

Directed by Shawn Levy.
Screenplay by John Gatins.
Starring Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo.

Posted by Andrew

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  1. “$200,000?! that’s like two small children” said my friend when one of the antagonists offered to buy the robot.

    • If my recent viewing of The Whistleblower has taught me anything it’s that may be enough for several dozen small children.

      Amusing moment, and thank you for sharing.

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