Review: “Real Steel”
2. "Real Steel" has scenes of fighting robots, and they are impressive, as far as they go: The movie, somewhat cleverly, imagines a universe of robots that are essentially professional wrestlers, who fight in the World Robot Boxing circuit, with names like "Midas," "Ambush" and "Noisy Boy." There's also an underground circuit, in which unproven or past-their-prime robots fight for whatever crash they can scrape up. You can work your way up, if you win the right fights, if the right promoter spots you. In other words: It's like human boxing now, only less corrupt. Now, robots, not being sentient beings, don't have much need for cash, which is why there are so many damn humans in this movie. "Real Steel" has too many humans. It wants you to get behind the inspiring story of a fighting underdog robot via the humans who "care" so much for it. But can a robot be an underdog? Isn't that sort of like cheering for the ping-pong balls in the lottery?
3. The movie lays it on thick, though, with Hugh Jackman mustering up every rogue charm cliche in the book to play Charlie, a robot boxing promoter who lives out of a van and constantly owes somebody money, somebody who's always looking to beat the cash out of him. (Humans only fight out of rage or credit in this movie; they leave the show-fighting to the robots.) Charlie, in a rather lazy conceit, discovers that his son, whom he's only met once, just lost his mother (you never find out how she dies, or even hear her name or see here; she's just "dead parent" so we can get onto the plot), and Charlie needs to show up and sign off on his rich aunt (Hope Davis, for some reason) to take care of him. As you might suspect, Charlie and the boy share a love for robot boxing, and once they've discovered an old "sparring bot" named Atom, a decade of parenting neglect is forgotten in a rags-to-riches tale of metal violence.
4. This is all incredibly silly, and the father-son business is handled in such a hokey manner that you'll find yourself tapping your foot waiting for people to stop talking so the robots might start punching each other again. It's sort of amusing, watching "Real Steel" contort itself into sports movie tropes that you wouldn't think would be possible in a movie about boxing robots. I understand why Atom would need to mimic Charlie's boxing moves; his programming allows him to complete any move he watches someone make. (Oh, Charlie's a former boxer, so you can probably guess where that's going.) I do not understand, however, why Atom would need to train, let alone necessitate a training montage. But this movie sneaks one in anyway, because we expect it, because this movie wants to be "Rocky" with robots so badly that I'm honestly surprised they didn't spring for rights to the Survivor song. Except with a cute kid, which I guess makes it "The Champ." Except robots can't die. "Real Steel" is undiscriminating in its derivativeness.