**** (out of 5)
October 7, 2011
Hugh Jackman as CHARLIE KENTON
Dakota Goyo as MAX KENTON
Evangeline Lilly as BAILEY TALLET
Anthony Mackie as FINN
Kevin Durand as RICKY
Hope Davis as AUNT DEBRA
Directed by: Shawn Levy
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
We should have seen this coming. After “Transformers” ripped apart box office records and later “G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra” did some respectable business in the August release window, it was only a matter of time before our childhood games and toys would all become major motion pictures. With upcoming releases of “Monopoly” and “Battleship” heading down the pipeline, it only seems logical that Hollywood would adapt the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots game into a film.
Does anyone question whether “Chutes and Ladders” and “Operation” are far behind? And why the hell have we heard nothing about a “Risk” movie?
Still, I rolled my eyes at the concept of a Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots film. Yet, when the first trailer dropped, I had to wonder… because it kind of looked good.
Then I saw the film, and I had to say this was a lot of fun.
The story borrows from more than just an old Mattel game. It’s based on the short story “Steel” by Richard Matheson, which was later adapted into an episode of the classic “Twilight Zone” series. When I saw Matheson’s name in the credits, I knew there was real potential. After all, if you name some of the best “Twilight Zone” episodes ever made, you’re likely to find Richard Matheson or Charles Beaumont’s name in the writing credits.
This movie follows Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman), a former championship boxer living fifteen years in our future. A lot has changed in the game of boxing, mainly the fact that human fighters no longer take the ring, but rather robotic counterparts that beat the living lube out of each other. Charlie is also a former champion of this sport, rarely able to contain his ego and prone to bad decisions inside and out of the ring.
After suffering a heartbreaking defeat with his fighting robot, Charlie strikes out to find a new fighter. In the process, he ends up taking care of his eleven-year-old son Max (Dakota Goyo), whom he doesn’t really know, for the duration of the summer. Over the few months, they patch up their dysfunctional relationship and work on a rag-tag sparring bot which becomes an unlikely champion.
There’s not much complexity or deep meaning in “Real Steel,” and that’s okay. I wasn’t really expecting any, and any attempt to force some in there would have been trite and silly. Instead, this is a pretty solid mix of an underdog fighting movie and a movie about a father and son. And all of it is set against the backdrop of some wicked-cool robots fighting.
It is this balance that makes the movie work, in spite of its slightly bloated 127-minute running time. (Why is it that every fighting robot movie released has such a long running time?) The relationship between Charlie and Max has decent chemistry, and even though Dakota Goyo channels a young Jake Lloyd in looks and acting ability, he’s a perfect match for Hugh Jackman.
While there’s a nice “Rocky” storyline with the underdog robot Atom getting a shot at a title against the superior Japanese-designed champion named Zeus (which led me to dub this film “Rocky Saki Robots”), the heart and soul of the film lies in the relationship between Charlie and Max, and to a lesser degree between Max and Atom. There are moments where the film threatens to get a little too corny, and I found myself bracing for the impact of Atom going full-on Johnny-5, but fortunately that never happens.
“Real Steel” is a button pusher, but it does so with style, using the fighting movie cliches better than “Warrior” ever does. And on top of the whole thing, it’s a great father/son movie, a “Field of Dreams” for today. I took my ten-year-old son, and he loved it. It was a real bonding moment for us, and that makes it dear to my heart.