Robots are rocked and socked in Real Steel, a movie about boxing robots.
In the not-too-distant future, humans have grown bored with human boxing and martial arts and have turned to fighting robots. There is an official robot boxing league and then oodles of smaller matches with varying rules about the level of robot-destruction required in each match. Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is fighting his ’bots at local rodeos and in abandoned warehouses — venues where total annihilation of the losing robot seems to be the order of things. It’s after one such loss that Charlie finds out an ex-girlfriend has died — an ex-girlfriend who is also the mother of Max (Dakota Goyo), a son he’s seldom seen. When Charlie arrives at the custody hearing for Max, he sees Debra (Hope Davis), Max’s aunt, and her husband Marvin (James Rebhorn), whom Charlie immediately pegs as a rich guy. Charlie doesn’t want custody of Max but he sees an opportunity and makes a deal with Marvin: for $100,000, Charlie will take Max for the summer (when Marvin had planned a vacation in Tuscany) and then hand over custody to Debra.
The deal gets Charlie cash to buy a new robot but it also gets Charlie Max’s company. Max is none too thrilled to be stuck with this father he barely knows (and who, as he quickly figures out, sold him) but he does like robot boxing. So he makes Charlie take him along as he seeks out another fight. When that goes bad, Charlie and Max end up in a junkyard searching for parts, which is where Max finds Atom, a robot he cleans up and decides to fight himself.
A boy and his dog, a girl and her horse — name your combination of big-eyed moppet and big-eyed animal and that’s basically what this movie is, except here some of the “eyes” are digital and the “animal” is trained to crush its opponent. But who says that steel crushing steel can’t be heartwarming?
Were Real Steel about 40 minutes shorter, you’d have a fun movie about robots smashing robots that boys ages 8 to 14 would pay double to see. As it is the movie is too long for what it needs to do, namely that robots smashing robots part. We get a sideplot romance between Charlie and a robot-gym owner named Bailey (Evangeline Lily) and too much repetition of the “Charlie is a loser” theme. This is not a case where more character study is a good thing. “Less thinking, more fighting” should be this film’s motto.
And when it sticks to the fighting, Real Steel is fun. The smackdowns are big and loud and full of flying metal and sparking computer parts. Hugh Jackman is at his best when he’s yelling at the robot “hands up!” or “duck!” Put this one in the Netflix queue, keep the remote close by and with the help of fast forward you’ll have yourself 70 minutes of fun action later this winter. C+
Rated PG-13 for some violence, intense action and brief language. Directed by Shawn Levy with a screenplay by John Gatins and a story by Dan Gilroy and Jeremy Leven, Real Steel is two hours and seven minutes long and distributed by DreamWorks.