As most of my four readers will soon learn – if they haven’t already – I have quite the obsession with huge technologically advanced robots kicking the ever loving WD-40 out of each others metal jock straps. What you probably didn’t know, is that robots even HAD the above-mentioned sporting equipment. Hey something has to keep their nuts in place.
Now that you’ve all groaned and my elementary school-based sense of humor has had a chance to thoroughly shine, I can also share with you that I’m a Transformers geek almost more than anything else in life. Optimus Prime was and still remains my favorite toy ever, in addition to also being one of my favorite science fiction characters of all time. While having the ability to transform into a red big rig and mash Decepeticons into oatmeal are nice added features, Prime’s main appeal is attributed mainly to his character and soul.
This brings us to Real Steel. Even though I was initially intrigued when I saw the coming attractions for this robot mash’em up in theaters, there was just something about it that didn’t give me that “drop my entire monthly paycheck on matinee IMAX tickets and a four pound bag of Reese’s Pieces” kind of vibe. I think it had to do with the fact that the robots were being shown as controlled by humans, without personalities of their own.
Wanted to show you a trailer that didn’t give away the WHOLE story…
I don’t often admit I was wrong, and I’m not going to now either. However, I will say this: Real Steel was not what I expected in a great way… and well, just maybe I wasn’t ‘entirely’ correct on my original assumptions.
SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t seen the movie, stop reading and go watch it now. Then immediately come back to this blog and read the rest of my review and other fine postings.
Real Steel is set in the not too distant future where robot fighting has become a legitimate sport due to the fact people wanted even more violence and destruction than even human MMA-style fighting could deliver (legally anyway). That plot point oddly enough is part of what makes the robot fighting concept so damn believable, albeit in a very scary ‘society is going to hell very quickly’ kind of way.
Charlie Kenton (played by the ‘forever in my mind’ Wolverine, Hugh Jackman) is a grifting ex-boxer just trying to scrap by in life. In debt to many and with an addiction to boxing with large metal robots, he is your typical down-on-your luck hard-ass that only cares about numero uno as the story begins.
Through a not entirely unbelievable set of circumstances, Charlie is forced together with his son, Max Kenton (Dakota Goyle), whom he willingly walked away from earlier in life. Conclusion: neither are very happy campers to be in each others presence at first, albeit to Max’s credit a small part of him – his pinky toe’s finger nail – would like that to change.
Evangeline Lilly plays Bailey, the very hot former love interest/motherly figure to Max/bad-ass boxing guru/robot technology expert/owner of the boxing training center and once again current love interest of Charlie. Oh, and did I mention to put loan shark on her resume, as apparently Charlie owes her money too.
In general the acting is actually quite good. Jackman plays his role quite well, and Lilly does her job as the future mother of my children… err, I mean Jackman’s frustrated and hard-nosed love interest. Goyle does his best when he is toned down, but I found him a little obnoxious during certain scenes when it seems he is trying too hard to come across as a young boy braver than his birth certificate would otherwise say.
Strangely enough, at the heart of Real Steel is the boxing robot known simply as Atom. Discovered by Max in the robotic junk heap after an arm of the robot coincidentally saves his life, it’s the robot itself that brings everyone in the movie together. Out-sized, out-classed, and out-technologied (I’m pretty sure I just created a new word), Atom is the underdog of the robot fighting world.
As I glossed over earlier, the robots in the movie are all controlled by their owners or training teams. Thus, they really don’t have personalities of their own… per say. However, it’s interesting to see how the robots do end up taking on the personality traits, habits fighting styles, and in some cases the physical appearances of their operators.
Atom is a bit unique of course. Designed originally as a sparring bot, he is an older model… which is the explanation behind why he is more human in form and function than most of the newfangled and much larger designs. While bringing the pain wasn’t part of his original purpose, taking one hell of a beating is in his DNA. Taking a punch – or 400 – is what makes the little bot so likable. Like the human spirit, he takes a beating but always manages to get back up. They just don’t build ‘em like they used to anymore!
Of course I wouldn’t be doing my job as a geek if I didn’t tell you how well done the effects were in this movie. The robots moved and interacted with their ‘live’ environments seamlessly and not once did I even think to question the CGI… it looked that real… partial pun intended. NOTE: Real Steel was also up for the best visual effects Oscar and is another movie that should have easily trounced Hugo. (But don’t get me started on that one again!)
While many of the robots are designed to be operated with voice control, advanced work stations or joysticks (insert penis joke here), Atom also has the ability to ’shadow’ his operators every moves. This element of course would be the perfect combination for an ex-fighter (cough, cough, wink, wink, hack, wink, hack, cough). Sorry, just choking on my lunch.
Anyway, It’s the aforementioned shadowing capability that actually gives Atom his personality and character, if you will. Of course the smile carved into the face mask below his eyes does give Atom a more friendly, innocent appearance as well. However, since Charlie and Max are the ones behind the controls, it’s their own souls and personality that are infused into Atom… giving him a personality that you just can’t help but root and shed a tear for (and yes, I did… I’m a sucker for a feel good robot flick.)
I won’t say anymore, as you will just have to shell out your own hard-earned cash (or talk someone else into renting it) in order to see the movie for yourself. If I had to sum up Real Steel, I would say it’s like Transformers meets Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots meets Rockyall wrapped up in a movie that actually has some good moral themes and family values thrown in for good measure.
More importantly, it has heart.
Is Real Steel the best robot beat ’em up flick I’ve ever seen? No, but in a sense it doesn’t have to be because it has other great elements going for it. While he’s no Optimus Prime, Atom and his training crew did inspire me to add this little gem to my Blu-ray collection… along with a few action figures for good measure.