STARRING: Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly,
Dakota Goyo, Kevin Durand, Anthony Mackie
2011, 127 Minutes, Directed by:
Steel is what happens when people who know nothing about science fiction
make a science fiction movie . . .
Although a Richard Matheson
story is given as an inspiration for the story, it’s obviously much more
inspired by the old toy Rock’em Sock’em Robots. To the notion of battling
robots the filmmakers have taken two parts Rocky and one part The
Champ (either the 1931 or 1979 version), and cobbled together an exercise in
The year is 2027. Charlie
Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is an ex-boxer who now tries to earn a living by promoting
a robot in the newly popular sport of robot boxing. He’s not very good at it and
is heavily in debt. It at this point he learns that an old girlfriend has died
leaving behind their 11 year old son Max (Dakota Goyo). After several pointless
scenes involving who will get custody of Max, Charlie agrees to watch the boy
for the summer. We get some more plot padding and finally get to the main story:
Max has found and restored a “second generation” robot named Atom who will turn
out to be a scrappy but effective boxer, allowing Max and Charlie to bond.
At this point anyone over the
age of 11 should have some questions. The current robots are “fourth generation”
but the only thing they are used for is boxing? In sixteen years the only other
technological or stylistic change are the cell phones? Does the world of 2011
seem absolutely identical to 1995? Would the invention of the sophisticated
robots we see in the movie impact the world of professional boxing and nothing
"No doubt they're already screening Rocky II looking for ideas"
Virtually no thought has been
given to the world the movie depicts or the people who inhabit it. Bailey
(Evangeline Lilly) is the daughter of the trainer who worked with Charlie, and
now holds on to a huge gym that clearly is no longer being used for anything.
Farra Lemkova (Olga Fonda) shows up as the owner of the world champion robot
Zeus and she’s haughty and obnoxious for no apparent reason except that the film
needs a heavy.
The film is so contrived that a
key element of Atom is that he has a “shadow” function – he can mimic another’s
actions in real time – which we’re told is “rare” and yet turns out to be
crucial to the film’s climax. How convenient.
The movie gives us the Rocky
battle between the “people’s champion” (Atom is actually called this) and the
haughty title holder, and the mawkish tear-jerking (courtesy of The Champ)
in which the old-timer and his young boy find a connection. However Real
Steel seems mostly concerned not with this future world but the possibility
of future sequels. Every robot Atom fights is distinct. The merchandising
tie-ins for action figures and the like are obvious. What’s more, the film’s
conclusion fairly screams for a sequel in which Charlie, Max and Atom get to
fight again. No doubt they’re already screening Rocky II looking for
Real Steel might impress
boys in the 11-14 year old demographic who’ll think the battling ‘bots are cool.
Anyone over that age will realize how the characters are just as robotic, going
through their programmed routines. It’s not as inane as the
Transformers movies, but it’s not for lack of