14 February 2012 | StevePulaski
Doesn't lead us down the road of "coolness"
My response to Real Steel is almost parallel to Hugh Jackman's reaction to the robot fighter Atom in the film. Upon initial advertising and trailers, I wasn't impressed by the film one bit. It looked like another film that glorified the "coolness" of robots, and then tried to tack on a contrived story of a father and son relationship. Never did I believe I'd see it and actually award it a positive score. Just like in the film where Jackman doesn't believe Atom has what it takes to be a successful fighter, and then is greeted with a rude awakening.
The film takes place in the near future, 2020 according to director Shawn Levy, where human boxers have been replaced by large metal monstrosities that do the dirty work while the humans occupy the controls and the commands for them. Charlie Kenton (Jackman), a former boxer, now spends his days using the robots to fight, but finds himself in a rough patch of failures.
After being informed his ex-girlfriend has died, whom he had a child with, Charlie must now take care of the kid for three months until his aunt and uncle return from their second honeymoon. The kid is eleven year old Max, played efficiently by Dakota Goyo. The two meet awkwardly, but experienced moviegoers like myself know that these two will soon become a cheerful father and son duo.
During a junkyard visit where Charlie and Max are searching for new parts for their robot, they stumble upon Atom, a small, yet relentlessly strong bot who is abandoned but still able to fight. They repair him, and then discover that with voice recognition and shadow effect, where the robot mimes the moves of a human) that he is a bot with a strong amount of potential for success. The rest of the film depicts the father and son's efforts to take Atom all the way to the championship.
The digital effects work very well together, and are much more eye appealing than the similar ones used in the Transformers series. For one thing, the fight scenes are coherent, entertaining, and extremely well scored by Danny Elfman, who this time gives us some delightfully different music.
The robots are captured using a variety of digital techniques. Some are animatronic, some are used through motion capture animation, where actors get fitted for special suits and imitate the motions of the character, and some just plain ol' CGI. All of these three techniques are blended very well together, and make for a very entertaining visual spectacle. Even the motion capture isn't as sketchy and glitchy as it normally is. In Ang Lee's Hulk back in 2003 it was clearly jerky and underdeveloped, in Mars Needs Moms, this same year, it was unnecessary and obtrusive, but here, it seems the effects team has gotten their act together.
I think the only fault here is the screenplay. but what makes it a bit better is the fact that the cast approaches it with optimism and the mentality that they will "make it work." Jackman certainly does, pulling off a sleazy, ignorant father who grows to appreciate his son and his job a bit more, and Dakota Goyo, like I said before, hits almost every note just right. The problem is the screenplay hammers us with several movie clichés we've seen many times before. The rags to riches story has shown itself many times, not to mention one's rise from humble beginnings to a successful career. At least Real Steel recognizes the movies it's paying homage to, like the whole end scene that slightly mirrors Rocky.
Director Shawn Levy has successfully made success out of two underdogs; the film itself and Atom. His previous flicks like Just Married and Night at the Museum were lightweight innocent features that failed to include anything on the same level as Real Steel. By the end, the film had given me a feelings I like to possess when I come out of a film I thought was going to be lackluster; reassured and surprised.
Starring: Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo. Directed by: Shawn Levy.