Real Steel (2011)

Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) doesn’t know when to say no. Having written off yet another boxing robot and endebted himself to yet another loan shark, Kenton attempts an escape, but not before he is confronted with the news that an ex-girlfriend has died, leaving him to negotiate custody with his estranged son Max’s (Dakota Goyo) responsible aunt Debra (Hope Davis) and uncle Marvin (James Rebhorn). Selling his son for $10,000, Charlie is able to purchase a new robot – Noisy Boy – on the condition that he looks after Max while his aunt and uncle are on holiday in Italy. When Noisy Boy too is lost to Charlie’s recklessness, and as longstanding love interest Bailey Tallet (Evangeline Lily) begins to tire of his endless losing streak, Charlie is left with nothing but a set of archaic boxing skills, his own disaproving son and the outdated piece of scrap metal that Max has rescued from the local dump. Can they overcome their differences and work their way to the top of the World Robot Boxing league (WRB) with old fashioned bot Atom? What do you think!

I am going to be honest with you. Full disclosure. I did not expect to like Real Steel; I really didn’t. In my defence, the robots vs. robots genre hasn’t exactly been going from strength to strength of late: Michael Bay single handedly driving the medium-high concept further and further into the ground with every outing of his cursed Tranformerbots. Jon Favreau didn’t help things either, taking his once-esteemed Iron Man franchise and clumsily losing the point somewhere in pursuit of more machines; bigger stunts; better effects. Enter Real Steel, with its mechanical boxing avatars. Watch the trailer again, can you really blame me?

I’ll admit, it doesn’t start out particularly promisingly. Hugh Jackman reprises his role as the curmudgeonly outsider, tripping over beer bottles and picking fights he has no hope of winning. His character is (re)established with minimal subtlety, so that within the first twenty minutes he has punched a bull, lost another robot through his inability to leave a bet unwagered and – this might be important later – shouted at a triage of kids. By act two the whole film takes shape before your eyes, as it becomes clear that the hard exterior will crumble, the inner boxer will out and Jackman’s character’s consumerist attitude towards his robots will give way to a more fulfilling appreciation of the game. Just like it did in X-Men, Van Helsing and Australia. Sort of.

Despite the rent-a-character-arcs, the unrepresentatively robot-heavy marketing campaign and the inclusion of Kevin I-just-want-to-be-in-a-half-decent-movie Durand, Real Steel doesn’t disappoint. More than that, however, it actually impresses. About to enter the ring, under everybody’s radar, is newcomer Dakota Goyo – George Lucas had better be kicking himself. The kid takes the sullen child archetype and works his inevitable daddy-issues into something wholly winning and unexpectedly compelling. As an inciting incident, he is incendiary; kicking the film up the arse just as Hugh Jackman was about to do something else hugely unlikeable. This is where Spielberg’s producer credit takes hold, birthing a ghost in the machine which elevates the film to heights it had no right in reaching.

Attacking his role with a vigour far beyond his years, Goyo delivers a performance which is every bit the match of Jackman’s own, eventually agreeable, turn as unenthusiastic father Charlie Kenton. The two have a wonderful chemistry which works to offset the undeniable cliche of the film’s NET plot. Attacking the script with an earnestness and emotionality that instantly sets Real Steel apart from its blockbusting peers, Shawn Levy’s film has the same old fashioned glow as J. J. Abrams’ spellbinding Super 8. Despite the fact that the ending pretty much writes itself, the accumulated good-will hard earnt by the film’s cast (may I take this opportunity to praise Evangeline Lilly’s preternaturally emotive smile) lends it a credence and – sod it – eye-watering emotionality that after the uninspiring opening seems to come from nowhere.

Atom couldn’t be any less remarkable – with its fly-repellent face and Iron not-so-Giant design – so simple in design that the entailing robot fights are genuinely arresting as opposed to head-achingly confusing. While the odd lingering camera shot and Max’s worked persona conspire to hint at a personality, Atom remains intriguingly inanimate. It is all the more impressive, therefore, that come the inevitable confrontation with uber-bot Zues, it is emotion that drives the scene, creating a more fulfilling dénouement through a series of loaded, teary glances than it ever could with spectacle alone. Yes it’s contrived, yes it’s sentimental, yes the machinations through which Max and Atom are introduced are face-palmingly awful, but Real Steel is also enchanting, beautifully made and – I appologise – far more than the sum of its parts. I very nearly cried. Twice.

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

2 Responses to Real Steel (2011)

  1. Pingback: October 2011 – Relax, I interviewed a pilot once! « popcornaddict

  2. Pingback: Ten 2012 Movies That Can’t Come Quickly Enough « popcornaddict

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