Thursday, November 01, 2012

Movie Review: Real Steel

Today’s Movie Review (Blu-Ray): Real Steel
(Released originally in October 2011.)

Hugh Jackman as Charlie Kenton
Dakota Goyo (Who?) as Max Kenton
Evangeline Lilly as Bailey Tallett

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5

My, it’s certainly been a while since we saw a movie about a low-class, underdog boxer who, through a bizarre set of circumstances, ends up with a shot at the title that no one ever thought he would get. Oh wait, no it hasn’t. Less than a year before this movie was released The Fighter, starring Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, came out, with a similar plotline. That movie, however, was based on real people and won Academy Awards. This movie is pure fantasy and is fun to watch.

It’s the year 2020. Not a lot has changed between the world today and the world about a decade from now, except that maybe wind turbines are a lot more commonplace (although the way they are sprouting up everywhere these days, I can see it) An aside: For a graphic example of how inaccurate a movie can be at predicting the near future, watch Timecop sometime.

The world of professional boxing hasn’t changed much, though. Professional promoters hype events to the max. A small group of rich people pulls the strings. Well-groomed champions are set up in bouts whose outcomes are foregone conclusions. One BIG thing has changed, though: The bouts are fought between remote controlled, 8 foot tall, 2000 pound robots. Think of a real-life version of Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots.

And fight they do! These massive machines, pound, pummel, and pulverize each other into scrap metal, all for the amusement of millions of cheering fans. Some things never change.

We are introduced to Charlie Kenton, a washed-up former professional boxer turned robot fight promoter. His “fighter” is a broken-down, battle-scarred robot named “Ambush”, who is so battered that he is reduced to fighting illegally in underground matches. After Ambush is destroyed in a fight with a bull (yes, you read that right) Charlie is desperate to find a new robot.

Shortly after the “bullfight”, Charlie learns that his ex-girlfriend has died, leaving behind Charlie’s son Max (Goyo). Max’s Aunt wants Charlie to surrender his parental rights so that she and her husband can adopt Max. Charlie, however, seeing that her husband is VERY rich, secretly extorts the husband for enough money to buy a new robot in exchange for giving up his custody rights to Max. The husband agrees, but only on the condition that Charlie keep Max for the summer so that he and his wife can take a trip overseas.

Charlie is at first jubilant. He plans to use the payoff to buy a new robot and get a few fights in over the summer while leaving Max with his on again/off again girlfriend and gym owner Bailey (Lilly). His plans quickly go awry, as, first, Max blackmails Charlie into taking him with him on the road, and, second, Charlie’s new robot is destroyed in its first match. As the two of them scavenge a junkyard looking for anything they can used to build a new robot, Max finds an old, long-obsolete but completely intact sparring robot.

This robot—named Atom—is unique in two ways: It is designed to take a lot of punishment, and it can exactly mirror the movements of any opponent it faces—a “shadow” function. Using this and parts salvaged from the two wrecked robots, Charlie and Max train the robot to fight using human-like boxing skills. As they begin cleaning up on the underground fighting circuit, they eventually get noticed by the “World Robot Boxing” league.

Will Atom get a shot at the WRB champ? Will Charlie and Max grow closer as the summer goes on? Is there more to Atom than meets the eye? Will there be a sequel?

Let’s answer those in reverse order, shall we? First, the movie made back nearly 3 times its budget, despite being released in October (usually when the crap movies come out) and it was well-liked by most critics. That sort of success breeds sequels. Hell, a QUARTER of that sort of success breeds sequels. And there are issues left unresolved, which brings us to the next question: Who created Atom, and why did he wind up at the bottom of a pit in a junkyard if he is so special? And to answer the first two questions on the list above, of course he will and of course they will. After all, this is Hollyweird! Didn’t you see Rocky?

That’s basically what this movie is, a Rocky for the video game generation. The world of professional fighting is already headed in this direction. The sport of boxing is slowly being subsumed by the much more violent UFC, so how far away can we be from millions of fans cheering as they watch two machines literally tear each other apart? And these machines are a video game nerd’s dream come true: Seeing the remote control fighters they have been watching on screen come to life. We saw hints of this possibility in the movie Gamer a couple of years ago (Look it up). And while I can’t see our society becoming that barbaric (yet), I can easily see this movie coming true, to a certain extent.

The acting is decent enough. Jackman, in his first major Blockbuster film since Wolverine, portrays Charlie alternatively as a world-weary has-been and as a small-time con man who can never think past the next big score. Lilly portrays his long-suffering friend, sometime girlfriend, and close confidant who loves him but has grown tired of his immature behavior. She has limited screen time, though, since this movie is not about their relationship—it is about the relationship between Charlie and Max.

It is this relationship that forms the soul of the movie. At the beginning of their extended road trip, it is Max who is the grown-up, and Charlie the immature kid. The roles gradually reverse, however, as Charlie learns to accept that he must become a better role model for his son.

Dakota Goyo, all of 11 when this movie was shot, shows real talent, and, provided he can avoid the pitfalls that most child actors have to face, should have a good career ahead of him.
The visual effects are very good. The movie received an Oscar nomination for them, based on the strength of the robot fight scenes. When you watch the extra features on the disc and see how much trouble the production team went through to give the movie an authentic feel, you see it was money well spent.

All-in-all, this was a pretty entertaining movie. And while it starts out slow and is quite cliché-ridden, it accomplished what it intended—to entertain and make money. That is the true measure of a successful movie.

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