out of Five
Running time: 127
Essentially Rocky With Robots, this is a heavily clichéd but nonetheless enjoyably feel-good drama that pushes all the right buttons, thanks to a decent script, some impressive special effects and winning performances from Hugh Jackman and newcomer Dakota Goyo.
What's it all about?
Directed by Shawn Levy, Real Steel is loosely based on a story by Richard Matheson and set in the near future. Hugh Jackman stars as Charlie Kenton, a washed-up ex-boxer turned down-on-his-luck robot boxing controller-slash-promoter, who suddenly finds himself having to take care of the 11 year old son he never wanted (Dakota Goyo as Max) after the boy's mother dies.
However, it turns out that Max is something of a whizz when it comes to robots and when he finds a discarded old-tech sparring bot in a junkyard, Max fixes him up, names him Atom and begs Charlie to get him a fight. And when Atom starts winning bouts, Charlie and Max find themselves with a shot at the big-time when they're invited to take part in the Worldwide Robot Boxing league.
Jackman's effortlessly charming screen persona is put to good use here, ensuring that Charlie remains sympathetic even when he's doing terrible things like secretly selling Max to his rich aunt and uncle (Hope Davis and James Rebhorn); he also has strong chemistry with both Goyo and Evangeline Lily (as Bailey, his gym-owning friend and would-be love interest). Similarly, Goyo is excellent as Max, particularly during the inspired and charming training montage sequences.
The effects are superb (the robots had physical presence on set rather than being Transformers-style CGI; they're actually closer to motion-capture) and the fight scenes are brilliantly staged, with the remote-controlled element working surprisingly well, since it introduces a crucial human element. The script is equally good and while the story may be clichéd, the clichés are effectively marshalled and deliver the required emotional (robot) punch.
The only wrong note in the film is the misjudged opening sequence where Charlie's robot fights a raging bull during a rodeo show; this doesn't really work (if a robot punching a bull is meant to be funny, it fails miserably) and nearly scuppers the film before its even begun. Even so, it has to work pretty hard to win back audience sympathy after that point.
Real Steel is an enjoyable, well made feel-good drama that succeeds thanks to a strong script, effective direction, impressive special effects and terrific performances from Jackman and Goyo. Worth seeing.