By Gary ‘Rust Bucket’ Murray
Starring Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly and Dakota Goyo
Written by John Gatins
Directed by Shawn Levy
Running time 127 min
MPAA Rating PG-13
Selig Film Rating Matinee
Special effects have become so common place in the movies that they truly aren’t that special anymore. We live in a cinema CGI world where anything imagined becomes possible. The latest flick to take the mantel of computer dominated images is the very old fashioned film Real Steel.
Set in the near future, the story is of robot boxing. Charlie (Hugh Jackman) is a former boxer who is now a promoter of the newest sensation where men of steel battle and no humans are hurt. When his latest fighter gets destroyed by a bull, Charlie must figure out a way to earn some cash to keep him alive and in the fight game.
He gets a second kick when he finds out that a former love has died. Charlie sired a child Max (Dakota Goyo) with her, a child he has had no contact with in eleven years. He goes to court to sign over parental rights to the sister of his dead lover and notices that the family has a load of money.
Basically Charlie sells his interest in the kid to get the money for a new robot. The stipulation is that he must take the kid for the summer. Evangeline Lilly plays Bailey, the owner of the robot boxing gym. She has her own long-term relationship with Charlie.
Soon Charlie finds that the kid is robot fighting obsessed and that his new robot is not the fighter he hoped for. In a midnight junkyard scramble to get parts, Max finds a robot buried in mud, discarded as scraps. The boy digs out the machine and decides that his robot can be trained as a fighter.
The rest of Real Steel is the training of the robot Atom and his eventual bout for the world championship. More than that, it is about Charlie and Max becoming a father and son as well as a pair of fighting promoters.
Evangeline Lilly is best known from her starring role in the ensemble drama Lost. She has landed a few parts here and there but with Real Steel she actually gets some scenes to show off all her acting skills. Full of charm, she gets ‘the girlfriend role’ but still finds more than one moment to shine. Somehow she just draws attention whenever she is on screen. A role like this could generate some major buzz for her career.
Young Dakota Goyo delivers the cute kid role without any real surprises. He is a charmer with a mischievous gleam in the sparkle of his eyes.
This is the Hugh Jackman show and for the most part he never disappoints. He plays the more comic elements with a Cary Grant style of flippant flare while still showing the macho man side of being a boxer. He is a heart-throb for the ladies but those expecting some beef-cake will be sorely disappointed.
To be honest, the human characters are secondary to the fighting robots. With a feel like the old Rock’em-Sock’em Robots game, these behemoth gladiators battle in a way that one has never seen on the screen before. It is power blow after power blow, pounding steel and mangling metal. It is almost as if the human beings have little to do in the world of Real Steel. The script is so paint by numbers that it could have been penned decades ago. There is nothing new in the story of Real Steel, just the look and execution.
Director Shawn Levy takes chapters from the Steven Spielberg playbook, using them in Real Steel. In shot after shot, he mimics the more famous director. Different shots that E.T. feel, full of wide-eyed magic. If one is going to steal shot composition, steal from the best. The entire look of Real Steel is majestic in scope and attention to detail. This is easily one of the most beautiful looking films of 2011.
The best way to describe Real Steel is Robot Rocky (but without the Oscars). This is the kind of film that the twelve year-old boy who lives inside every geek will adore. It is a watch-able little flick but nothing more than a diversion to a hard day.