Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Reel Review: REAL STEEL

REAL STEEL is a perfect example of a milk-shake movie; a million elements from a million movies mixed together for a sweet and refreshing flavor. Specifically, it takes pieces and parts from several sports (coughrockycough), family drama and sci-fi movies and simply gives them a new setting. Aside from the visuals, there is nothing here that hasn’t been seen before; and like a good milkshake, it’s enjoyable and out of your system just as fast as it went in.

In the not-to-distant future where robots have taken the place of humans in the sport of boxing, Charlie (Hugh Jackman) is a down-and-out former boxer who is struggling to pay off his massive debts while his remote-controlled robots gets smashed to pieces in competition. His world gets even more complicated when he discovers that he has a son, Max (Dakota Goyo) from his newly deceased former girlfriend. Charlie strikes a monetary deal with Max’s family to take him in, and discovers that Max has a talent and love for robot-boxing. They stumble upon an old robot named Atom; a diminutive, under-dog sparring-bot which Charlie teaches how to box. Together with Charlie’s gal-pal Bailey (Evangeline Lilly), he goes on to realize that Max’s importance in his life goes beyond the success he can bring him in the ring.

So STEEL is another high-concept film (fighting robots) coupled with a simplistic, and cliché family drama (deadbeat dad learning lessons from his stubborn son); with subplots of redemption and moral ethics just to be safe. The main tale here is older than time and thinly drawn with flat characters. Again, there is nothing new here, and it is hard to be objective when the plot is so familiar and predictable. It is only when the fighting robots come into play that things get better.

And when those fighting robots do come along, it is lights out filmmaking. Brought to life with stunning combos of CGI and animatronics, the fight scenes, comedy routines, and intimate scenes bring weight and legitimacy to REAL STEEL. It is fun to see the robots pummel each other, and we root for the underdog (Atom) because our characters have so much invested in him. Although the film feels and looks like the playroom of a five year old boy, it is fun while it lasts.

Jackman attacks the role with more charisma than we’ve seen from him in a while, and really seems to believe in what he’s doing. Goyo does very well as the annoying kid, but like most kids on film, comes off as way too sophisticated for an 11-year old.

Director Shawn Levy keeps the sci-fi elements very grounded; the fights are never confusing and he keeps his lenses on small-town America. Danny Elfman’s score is a ROCKY rip-off, and the use of Alexi Murdoch in the opening credits comes off as a lame attempt at maturity.

There is a nice buildup to the finale, which unfortunately ends with an resolution that can be seen from a mile away. The final fight is Rocky vs. Apollo I all over again, and the entire film can be summed up right there; even though it is tired and cliché, it works overall because it is a fresh look at an overused drama. Adults should be wary of being bored, and of their kids being inspired to punch cardboard boxes for hours.


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