“Real Steel” ‘s idea of innovative storytelling is welding the elements of generic boxing films with a science-fiction setting. Yet, even with its laughable premise — robots in the future who box in arenas — its story manages to stay afloat in the shallow end of the sports film pool. “Real Steel” promises and delivers fun, humor and action.

Real Steel

At Quality 16 and Rave
Disney


It’s a silly concept and a silly movie with a father-son story too obvious to prop up its rock-‘em, sock-‘em premise. The father, played by Hugh Jackman (“X-Men” movies), is Charlie Kenton, a part-time crook, full-time unsuccessful robot-boxer, ex-human-boxer. Charlie throws himself into every match, searching for the next score to even his others, no passion or goals. Then one day his old girlfriend dies and leaves behind his illegitimate son, Max, played by a charming Dakota Goyo (“Thor”). So, Charlie takes him on a journey to relieve his debt, as the audience flounders up to its eyeballs in clichés.

Of course, Max is a streetwise kid with a smart mouth (who will undoubtedly be poached by the Disney Channel). Of course, Jackman is a horrible father, but a charismatic figure. Of course, they learn to love and care for each other through their common interest, which is (of course) robot boxing.

It’s generic material at best, but it rarely suffers under Shawn Levy’s (“Date Night”) direction, despite its bloated length of 127 minutes. Though Charlie has his convincing moments as an unapologetic rogue and Max is never short on charm, “Real Steel” probably could’ve benefited from more time in the editing room, cutting away some of the sappier moments, and a more poignant final product would’ve been made.

As is, the film has its spots of kinetic action, which fortunately don’t overwhelm the audience with explosions and overzealous cinematography. These robots certainly pack a wallop. They scramble and dance about the ring in great fashion as the crowds eagerly await the killer blow. But none of them have been programmed a personality, until Charlie and Max come across a robot called Atom with a “shadow function,” which means Atom is able to imitate the owner’s movements.

Earlier in the film, Charlie remarks how robot boxing has removed the human spirit that had made human boxing an art. Now, it’s about trashing machines for the sake of entertainment. But with Atom, Charlie can inject his own ingenuity and experience into a robot. Such a plot device celebrates human ingenuity and passion over cold cleverness in the context of a changing society. It’s a sentiment present throughout the entire film: The camera soars over serene fields of farm crops surrounded by towering wind turbines; Charlie is a human boxer caught in a world that wants to see destruction and mayhem, not art and passion. The story contains all these rich elements and it attempts to explore them. But such an expansion might’ve overwhelmed the father-son story, and so these elements are only touched upon.

Still, while the story is more mechanic than authentic, the film is surprisingly filled with humor and charm to win over audiences. This is a movie for anyone looking for a robot film with plenty of solid action scenes — without an over-enthusiastic camera filling the screen with explosions at every opportunity — and just enough soul to fill Michael Bay with envy.

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