Magazine article Screen International

Real Steel

Magazine article Screen International

Real Steel

Article excerpt

Dir: Shawn Levy. US. 2011. 127mins

Apparently chiefly inspired by the loads of money generated by robots smashing into one another in the Transformers films, executive producer Steven Spielberg helps orchestrate more metallic mayhem in Real Steel, in which a tremendous technical polish is brought to bear upon what is frequently a rather awkward grafting of family drama and overblown, futuristic boxing tale.

Jackman's star wattage, meanwhile, remains undimmed throughout; he's a gifted performer who knows how to dispense charm and attitude in precisely calibrated fashion.

Anchored in winning fashion by Hugh Jackman, the movie bogs down in its narrative pivots but generally succeeds when it's taking swings in the ring, which should help it succeed with both younger action genre fans but especially admirers of underdog sports stories. An amiable crowd-pleaser that prefers one not dwell too long on its setting or particulars, Real Steel also loses nothing in translation, and accordingly should do quite well internationally.

Set in the near future, Real Steel centers on Charlie Kenton (Jackman), a gruff, washed-up journeyman boxer who lives out of an abandoned gym owned by Bailey Tallet (Evangeline Lilly), the daughter of his former trainer. With human fisticuffs now apparently passé, Charlie works the traveling fair and underground robot boxing circuit, piecing together low-end bots from scrap metal and grabbing unsanctioned matches wherever he can. When unexpected circumstances land him summer custody of his estranged 11-year-old son Max (Dakota Goyo), Charlie finds his natural impulsivity and moneymaking instincts severely cramped.

Max discovers Atom, though, an older, smaller robot built only for training. He convinces his dad to help fix him up, and several weeks of success on the amateur circuit apparently drums up quite the publicity, because before long Max and Charlie are offered a professionally certified fight. Against this backdrop, the cheeky Max calls for (and eventually gets, of course) a match against the overall reigning robot champion, the brutish and supposedly indestructible Zeus.

The nature of its conceit all but obliges Real Steel end with father holding son aloft in his arms, but it's of course how viewers are taken to that point that matters. While its stabs at emotionalism are sincere, the movie never once shakes free of the feeling that it owes its entire existence to external market forces.

Liberally adapting a Richard Matheson short story, screenwriter John Gatins seems to be laboring under an edict to showcase multiple robots, as if that fact alone will leave an audience thrilled. …

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