The only reason Real Steel exists is because Hugh Jackman needed a paycheck and he didn’t want to play as Wolverine. Other than that the film is as shallow as a puddle. It brings nothing new to the table in terms of story, acting and even special effects. It’s a talentless director trying to channel his inner Michael Bay for special effects, but realizing that he doesn’t have the budget to make an action picture, instead he hires whoever he can to fill the cast list and tries to make a father son bonding film that evokes no emotions from its audience. It does however evoke the feeling of being sick to my stomach. Real Steel is a disaster of a film that tries being two different movies and ends up being nothing but scrap metal.
Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is a former boxer who now spends his time traveling across the country with washed up robots trying to make a little cash. He has no responsibility or care for anyone or anything. He’s in debt with the wrong people and trying to figure out what to do. At the worst possible time his kid, who he’s straight up abandoned, is thrown into his life for a brief moment while his aunt attempts to obtain custody. The mother died and the aunt wants to take the child, but Charlie sees this as an opportunity. He initially tries to sell the kid to the aunt, but ends up doing a little bargaining and scores a deal. He gets some cash up front if he watches the kid over the summer and then when he returns the kid he’ll be given some more cash.
His son Max (Dakota Goyo) is a little bit of a spitfire. He’s got his father’s stubbornness and a curiosity for robot brawling. As the two start bonding they come across an old robot that no one wants. The kid fixes it up and asks his father to help get him some fights. It’s the blind leading the blind.
Real Steel is so damn pathetic.
The rest of the film plays out in a very predictable fashion. Max’s robot ends up winning a ton of fights and Charlie starts to like the kid. They become close, things get in the way and it all sorts itself out in the end. Not one surprise is tossed in and the whole thing feels like a massive waste of time.
My two biggest gripes with Real Steel are its lack of establishing a tone and the piss poor directing that makes it feel like one of the most generic and uninteresting films I’ve ever seen. The film bounces around, trying to be a lightly serious robot action film and a very kid friendly father son bonding flick. One moment we’re exposed to brutal boxing between robots, powered by really nasty individuals and then the next moment we are subjected to 5 minutes of the kid teaching his robot how to dance while listening to Eminem.
The closest thing to compare this to is Transformers. Michael Bay took childish source material, at least in my opinion, and injected it with enough action and crazy effects to make it at least worthy of popcorn film status. Real Steel has moments of that madness, but most of it is covered with really sappy material that misses all of the right beats. Charlie is a dickhead father who has no redeeming qualities. He’s that same dickhead from beginning, middle and end. The only lesson he learns is that kids can be useful when it comes to making money in the robot fighting league, oh and maybe that he’s a piece of shit that signed his kid away for 100 thousand bucks.
Sure, they hug it out at the end, but that doesn’t really solve all of the past neglect does it? If you’re looking for anything deeper than a paper cut then you will be displeased with Real Steel. If you’re looking for some sweet action between robots then you’ll still probably be displeased because you have to sit through a lot of “cute” scenes between Max and Charlie.
The characters are so wooden and dull that it makes you question Shawn Levy‘s ability as a director. Does he even try and get some sort of emotional response from any of his performers or does he let Hugh Jackman walk around and look tired for the majority of the film? The kid who plays Max does nothing but dance and forgive his father in 10 seconds. Maybe they deserve each other when it’s all said and done. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree is a perfect expression for the relationship between Max and Charlie.
You have Evangeline Lilly, of Lost fame, who plays Charlie’s friend/love interest. That’s never really further touched upon, but a feeling of incest kind of comes to mind between the two, even though there not actually related, one moment there treating each other like brother and sister and the next there making out over some half destroyed robot. What kind of message is this sending to the kids?
Real Steel is complete junk. The only thing that didn’t suck were the special effects, but Michael Bay and many others have been doing this kind of work for a while now, so no pass is given here. The characters are the most generic and uninteresting people I’ve seen on film this year and the story plays it so safe leaving no room for surprises. The whole build up is severely flawed. Even suspending your own disbelief doesn’t work for Real Steel. There is absolutely nothing enjoyable in the film and it’s a shame because I enjoy watching Hugh Jackman stray away from his X-Men fame. Director Shawn Levy has managed to take an interesting concept and inject it with the most generic underdog story known. The casting doesn’t help the film at all because of the faulty story and everything else doesn’t really matter. Real Steel packs no punches.
Real Steel – 5/10
*Note: Real Steel is proof that Michael Bay does indeed house some sort of talent. It may not be much, but its miles better than Shawn Levy*