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Real Steel - Review

Real Steel

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 2.5 out of 5

ROBOT boxing movie Real Steel should have been a contender for sports movie greatness. Instead, it leaves viewers punch-drunk with too much saccharine and one too many clichés.

Inspired by a Richard (I Am Legend) Matheson short story named Steel that also formed the basis for a memorable episode of The Twilight Zone, the ensuing film has been directed by Shawn (Cheaper By The Dozen/Night At The Museum) Levy with Steven Spielberg serving as executive producer.

But rather than really exploring the dark heart that under-scores proceedings, it prefers to follow a family-friendly path to redemption that owes more to the classic Spielberg schmaltz of ET and the triumph of the under-dog spirit of the Rocky films than uncovering anything truly individual.

Set in a not-too-distant future where robots have replaced humans as boxers, the film follows the fortunes of down-on-his-luck former fighter Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) as he tries to make a living sending metal men into the ring to fight.

When we first meet him, for example, he’s willing to put a robot in the ‘ring’ with a live bull, only to see the pay-day scuppered by a little too much show-boating.

When he’s re-introduced to 11-year-old Max (Dakota Goyo), the son he essentially abandoned after birth, he initially offers to sell him too, but is forced to spend some time with him on the road, during which the discovery of an old robot named Atom gives both of them a shot at success in the ring.

To be fair, Levy’s film will probably appeal to kids who are still building their cinematic awareness, especially given the charismatic central performance from Jackman and the energy with which the robot boxing scenes are directed.

But older viewers will almost certainly lament the number of missed opportunities that slowly accumulate, not to mention the flaws in the narrative that eventually deliver a knock-out blow.

Admittedly, the early scenes that place Jackman’s Charlie at his most desperate have some grit to them and suggest a much darker movie than what is eventually delivered.

But in playing to genre expectation, Levy forgets to address some of the issues he raises during those opening establishing scenes and creates an uneven tone from which the film never quite recovers.

He also can’t resist turning Goyo’s Max into one of the more precocious pre-teens we’ve seen on the screen for a long time… a kid with a bad attitude who, quite frankly, deserves to be sold and whose cheesy dance routines before each fight are genuinely cringe-inducing.

Indeed, by opting to spend a lot of his time exploring the father-son dynamic under-pinning the story, Levy doesn’t allow enough time to properly explore the futuristic world he has created and which certainly warrants greater depth (given its origins in yet more darkness).

He also short-changes some of his other actors… most notably Evangeline Lily’s love interest, who deserves more time with Jackman to make her devotion to his [lost] cause ring true, and Kevin Durand’s villain, who has so much more potential as a worth-while rival.

The overall result is a film that may well prove a hit with the kids but which feels like a feather-weight masquerading in a heavyweight genre in so many other regards.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 126mins
UK Release Date: October 14, 2011