REAL STEEL comes to us from director Shawn Levy (NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM, DATE NIGHT) and is adapted from a short story written by Richard Matheson who you may know as the author of awesome stories such as WHAT DREAMS MAY COME and I AM LEGEND. REAL STEEL tells the tale of a retired boxer in the near future who makes a living building and fighting robots. During his attempted rise to the top he discovers that the wife of his 11 year old son has passed and he must decide if he wants/needs to be a part of his life for once. Also worth noting is that Steven Spielberg (WAR OF THE WORLDS, MINORITY REPORT) has a producing credit for this film and Danny Elfman (pretty much every Tim Burton film, THE SIMPSONS theme) is in charge of the musical score. The film stars Hugh Jackman (X-MEN Series), newcomer Dakota Goyo (played the young version of Thor), and Evangeline Lilly (TV’s LOST). Basically the creative team and talent behind this film is pretty cool.
I’ll admit that when I saw the trailer for REAL STEEL I laughed at it with all my friends but secretly thought it looked kind of cool. The high energy infused trailer had Hugh Jackman screaming into a microphone at his lumbering robot fighter in what looked to be a live action version of “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots”. One thing I want to make clear is that this movie is a heartfelt drama about a father and son struggling to connect first and a robot fighting movie second. Don’t let the trailer fool you. While there are plenty of kick ass and well animated action scenes, they all take a back seat to a surprisingly heartfelt and engaging story about the love between a father and son. I admit this movie had huge potential to “suck” but I assure you that REAL STEEL is much better a movie than you may expect.
Hugh Jackman is a very likable actor and I enjoy him in just about everything I see. While his performance here is not spectacular it gets the job done. My only gripe is that there were a few too many scenes where Jackman over excitedly yells in a microphone but that is just a nitpick on my part. Newcomer Dakota Goyo on the other hand plays his role exceptionally well. It is rare to have a child actor of his age on screen this much in a movie without becoming annoying. His chemistry with Jackman is great, his timing is pretty spot on, and he is just a fun likable kid. I admit one concern I had going into this was that the kid was gonna just be cheesy and annoying but that is not the case at all. A pleasant surprise for sure. It was also nice to see Evangeline Lilly in something other than LOST. She had a much smaller role than the other actors but was a good screen presence nonetheless. It is also worth noting that Kevin Durand (also on LOST with Lilly and in X-MEN ORGINS: WOLVERINE with Jackman) has a small role in this as an offensive redneck with a score to settle with Jackman’s character. I love seeing this man in films and think he is a great talent who really has not had his moment to shine yet except for his brief role in 3:10 TO YUMA which was awesome!
REAL STEEL is set in the “near future” but things don’t seem all that different compared to how things are now besides robot fighting being the main spectacle. One thing I greatly valued about this movie was that the director often took the time to step back from it all and show the viewers some quiet and beautiful moments in the country side in between the spectacle of the fights. I enjoyed these interludes and they let the viewer really absorb the difficult decisions Jackman’s character had to make when it came to his son. It is also worth mentioning that some of the underground arenas the robots fight in are really interesting. My favorite being an abandoned zoo that now houses a group of shady characters who run there own robot fights. Very cool stuff.
Alright already let’s get to the good stuff. The robots of course. The main reason I bet most of you are coming to this movie is to see some bad ass robot on robot fighting action! REAL STEEL has plenty of that. The variety of cool looking robots in this film is in no short supply. The animation used to capture these titans is quite the spectacle. At no point did I ever think that it looked corny or fake. REAL STEEL is a prime example of how to seamlessly integrate animation into a live action film and look good. The coolest robot in this film by far is Atom. Besides his cool design, it is hinted a handful of times that Atom may be “aware” of his existence instead of just being a pile of scrap metal. I would have greatly enjoyed it if the movie followed up on those hints a little more and gave the audience more insight and let us know if Atom was indeed “aware” or not. Either way it was a nice addition and added a level of familiarity and humanity for the robot that makes the audience care for Atom that much more. So basically what you need to know is that the robots look great, the fights are entertaining, and out lead robot Atom is very likable and you just want to root for him.
REAL STEEL is a perfect example of why movie goers (myself included) should not judge a book by its cover, or in this case, a movie by its trailer. REAL STEEL is a heartfelt drama about the relationship between a father and son set upon the backdrop of a near future where robot fighting is the main source of entertainment. This is a great family film that has enough maturity and grit to keep older audiences captivated throughout. The cast was solid, the story was engaging, and the action was fun. While REAL STEEL is not without its shortcomings, it does prove to be something worth seeing. I have no problem recommending this one.
Final Score: 7.5 out of 10