One of the greatest virtues of the original Rocky (the film that won the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture in 1976) was that Rocky did not win at the fight at the end, although he became a better fighter. I am not spoiling much of Real Steel if I were to say this is the Rocky for the CGI generation. A few weeks ago I wrote that the best part of the fall is that movies get smarter; well, I was just proven wrong by Real Steel. While Rocky was a sentimentalist allegory for the great white hope, Real Steel is nothing more than a silly movie about robot boxing.
If you have seen the trailers, by far the best part of this movie, then you already know 99% of the story. Hugh Jackman stars as Charlie, a washed out former boxing champion; at some point in his career robots replaced humans in the ring and the sport changed. Professional boxing is now the ultimate playground for geeks and rednecks who like to watch robots bash each other, while the human boxers are simply used to teach the robots how to box. Jackman’s life turns around when his ex-wife dies and his long lost son (Dakota Goyo) comes to live with him. The kid is a robot-boxing fan and soon enough he inspires Charlie to fix himself up and start boxing again. And by boxing he means teaching a junkyard robot how to do it. Atom, the robot, turns out to be quite a good machine; the trio gets cocky and soon enough they are challenging the world champion.
Sound familiar? Real Steel is basically every underdog-boxing movie out there, but with robots. This is both its strength and it weakness. By focusing the story in a father-son relationship and not the sport, the film avoids those twenty-minute action sequences that have become quite tiresome. But at the same time it follows every cliché of the father-son story, and becomes overtly sentimental. Not to mention that it includes the most awkward kiss ever filmed between Charlie and his girlfriend, now foster mother to his son, Bailley (Evangeline Lilly). The clichés are so numerous that the film becomes painfully awkward to watch. Should I have expected better writing from a movie about robot boxing? Probably not; but the trailer was so well edited that my expectations were certainly higher.
Like many of its kind, Real Steel is a well-made movie. Well acted, decently directed by Shawn Levy (who is best known for his family comedies), and pretty looking. But although there used to be a time were this could only be attributed to a good movie, now a movie about robots bashing each other can enjoy the benefits as well.
I guess Real Steel is a decent movie. And you might enjoy it, if robot boxing is your type of thing and you happen to be in middle school. But we can and should expect more.