Film Review: Real Steel
A robot boxing movie from the director of both Night at the Museum films, the Pink Panther remake and Cheaper by the Dozen. You’d be forgiven for thinking it would turn out offensively bad, but you’ll be surprised by Real Steel. Completely surprised.
Hugh Jackman is a deadbeat, down on his luck jackass former boxer out to make a quick buck in the robot boxing world of 2020. He comes into custody of his son (Dakota Goyo) through rather sleazy, but hilarious, means. That, of course, sends him on the road to redemption. It’s the classic underdog story on multiple levels. A kind of Rocky, if it also featured a robot fighting its way up the ladder.
Jackman is his usual charming self, putting in a truly great performance. His relationship with his on-screen son is entirely believable. They share great character moments and have brilliant chemistry. Goyo holds up his end, he’s pretty darn good. His character has real backbone and is clearly his father’s son. Both also have a great relationship with the robot Atom, despite the fact that he’s remote-controlled. He works as a device for them to project themselves and their feelings on to.
Evangeline Lilly as a robot grease monkey, gym owner and daughter of Jackman’s former boxing coach rounds out the trio of charisma in the film. She’s spunky and holds her own next to Jackman and Goyo. It also doesn’t hurt that Lily is a stunningly beautiful woman, she should really feature in more films.
Outside of the core three, there’s pretty much only ham and cheese (Anthony Mackie & Kevin Durand deliver that in a positive way, though). The dialogue and delivery by the support players is noticeably inferior, especially for the antagonists, Olga Fonda and Karl Yune. They’re nothing more than cardboard cutouts with barely a whisper of back story or motivation, rather reminiscent of 80s villains, actually. Thankfully, not too much screen time is devoted to them.
The story is well paced and never feels like it’s killing time until the next story beat, its full run time (127 minutes) runs without a single dead spot. The film simply draws you in and constantly entertains.
Shawn Levy shows that he’s capable of so much better with this film. He’s obviously helped by his main cast, the weakness of the side characters is a weakness of the script rather than the directing.
The film features some nice cinematography and editing, with a few inspired uses of focus and numerous wide shots that go on longer than one has come to expect from a robot action movie. Speaking of which, the fight scenes, of which there are many, are well choreographed and thankfully feature steady camera work, giving you the optimal view at all times. Those scenes are downright fun to watch.
Additionally, the production design is fantastic. The crew does well to build a convincing world of the near future of 2020. Little touches, like phone technology and how screens have evolved, make sense. The film does well to never shove these things in your face. The robots look great. Made with a blend of animatronics and special effects, they exude character and attitude, emoting convincingly, despite not speaking. Danny Elfman‘s score is almost completely anonymous until the climax, where he, like the film itself, kicks things into emotional high gear.
Final Verdict: Fun and entertaining, leaving you with a smile on your face. Real Steel could easily have been so much worse, but Jackman, Goyo and Lily elevate the material and make the film worthwhile. It features an amazing climax that’ll have you cheering and possibly even tearing up. A reprieve from the incoming wave of seriousness in the form of Oscar contenders. And yes, there’s a montage.