Real Steel Reviewed: Hugh Jackman At His Robotic Worst

After another Transformers travesty this summer, Shawn Levy and Hugh Jackman are now in the firing line with their own mechanical malarkey.
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Just why the hell does Hollywood have such a hard-on for robots smashing the living crap out of each other? Considering that we’ve been subjected to the Transformers running about all the place in a blaze of indistinct CGI, Real Steel initially seems rather redundant. But I think I know why it is: robots don’t ask for huge trailers, even bigger salaries and don’t compare their directors to Hitler. It’s a wonder that they bothered to cast Hugh Jackman and the rest of his human co-stars at all.

In the near future it has been decreed that humans fighting each other is too barbaric for entertainment (they have clearly never been to my hometown on a Saturday night) and ‘robot boxing’ is now the sport of the moment. Two souped up metal meanies face each other in the ring whilst their human controllers stand at ringside fiddling with remote controls and shouting instructions in the hope that they don’t end up hauling home scrap. Jackman plays Charlie Kenton a former ‘real’ boxer who now spends his career getting machines to fight. Unfortunately Kenton is down on his luck and with debt problems and robots that can’t get the job done, his life is at a low ebb. When he takes charge of his estranged 11-year-old son Max - in reality a deal to earn him some more money – Charlie thinks his luck is looking up. But after another pounding Charlie is proved wrong. But after a raid on a scrapyard Max finds a dilapidated early generation robot boxer named Atom. Against his father’s wishes, Max enters him into low level tournaments and begins winning. Soon father and son are headed to the Robot Boxing Leagues and – alongside winning ways – the begin to discover a bond.

The rest of the cast might as well be robots for such is the memorable nature of their performances.

This is a film that feels as if it’s been written by a five-year-old who’s been allowed to create it as some sort of bizarre birthday present. “Yeah, I fink there should be robots in a Robot Boxing League and they fight and they have cool names and do cool stuff and Wolverine should be in it and have a son who does cool things. Can I have some cake now?” Yes, this is simplistic as hell and is mainly an excuse to have lots of CGI robots hit each other for a bit (unsurprisingly, as I write this, it is currently the biggest box office hit in the US.)This is not necessarily a bad thing as little kids will probably love it (even though it’s a little too long for little ones and the ‘relationship stuff’ will probably have them itching for more robots) but those looking for any sophistication you’re looking in the wrong place. However, those looking for incessant product placement will be delighted (Yes, it happens in most blockbusters but it’s blatantly obvious and annoying here.)

Jackman coasts along bringing his usual ability to make even the most dull schtick a bit more bearable thanks to his charisma whilst the fantastically named Dakota Goyo is scarily precocious as Max. Indeed his ‘Oh I am so cool and worldly wise’ performance, whilst undoubtedly accomplished, is a little too adult for one of such tender years and – if the film’s premise where not such a lot of old nonsense to begin with – it would feel slightly wrong. The rest of the cast might as well be robots for such is the memorable nature of their performances.

Director Shawn Levy can stage an action sequence adequately and – at the very least – the film just about manages to keep a good energy but this is undemanding all the way. Yeah, take the kids but if you buy them some Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots you’ll probably have twice the fun.

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