October 7, 2011 by Vinnie Leduc
Less than a month ago, an overlooked fighting movie called Warrior came out and surprised many people, eventually including myself once I got around to watching it. The close-to-dreadful trailers seemed to hawk your typical feel-good, against-all-odds sports drama; however, Warrior turned out to be great film that would have given The Fighter a run for its money last year.
After a long campaign of similarly mediocre trailers, director/producer Shawn Levy can only hope that his new challenger, Real Steel, will lift some eyebrows, too. Levy, who has socked audiences with round after round of mainly family features and a couple of comedies, enters the ring of entirely different genres, sci-fi and action. He presents these dazzling aspects of Real Steel impressively, but ironically it’s the family drama that prevents his futuristic version of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots from being a champ.
When considering only the boxing action and showmanship of Real Steel, the entertaining one-two punch is a technical knockout. If I owned this movie on video, I would be skipping straight to the bot bouts, almost all of which were thoroughly satisfying. Also pleasing to the eyes and ears are the metallic mashers themselves. They’ve been designed beautifully and look exactly as you’d expect them to in near-future sporting events. It helps even more that true to the film’s title, the brawling bots look real despite being CGI at times. This additionally aids in maintaining a nice pace for a two-hour movie by distracting viewers from the underwhelming scenes in between bot battles.
Outside of the robot rumbles, Real Steel shows signs of rust. It’s as if Levy desperately wanted to somehow program a Lifetime family drama into a Michael Bay blockbuster. I had no problem with Hugh Jackman playing his character like a warmer spin-off of his Wolverine persona, but man was that little kid insufferable. I nominate him for Most Annoying Character of the Year along with Russell Brand as Arthur (don’t watch it) and Justin Bieber in Never Say Never (didn’t watch it), which is an automatic nomination.
At various times in Real Steel, I was hoping the kid would get accidentally punched in the face or back of the head by his own robot (everybody stands so close to them!). There are a couple of lingering shots of tears slowly rolling down the cheeks of some characters… as if Levy is telling us, “This part is supposed to be sad, so you should be crying, too.” Except it’s not anywhere close to being that emotive. Also, what the hell was that Dr. Pepper dancing sequence?!?
With its exciting in-your-face action and magnificent machine melees, Real Steel could have thrived as a summer main event. The sci-fi action contender will give you a decent post-Transformers fix, but its father-son story is no Warrior, giving your tear ducts a rest and Real Steel a split decision. Real Steel gets 2.5 out of 5 stars or C+ or Okay.