Lightweight, brain dead entertainment that is actually fun if accompanied by boys 20 years of age and younger
As I have said on multiple occasions, as clueless as most 20-year old boys are, they are crucial as companions when seeing hokey, manipulative cinematic nonsense like Real Steel. Because the damned reality is that this sugary, cloying mayhem is right up their power alley. And so with my 20-year-old Saudi exchange student Thamer and his Saudi compatriot “Howdy Partner” (don’t ask!) in tow for comfort, it was off to see Real Steel. Thamer loved it, “Howdy” was indifferent and I gloried in the whole cinematic paradox.
Real Steel deals with a time in the future where robots have replaced humans in professional boxing matches. Imagine a T.V. reality show centered around a real life, violent video game and you get the complete picture.
At the risk of sounding a bit condescending, Real Steel is basically a cosmetic recreation of the world of professional wrestling. It taps in to the raw emotion so flamboyantly generated by that fake sport, and I must admit that it was fascinating watching many in the movie audience erupt in cheers and yells as they identified with their alter egos on screen.
Hugh Jackman stars here as Charlie Kenton, a complete, selfish prick who long ago cavalierly abandoned his now 11-year old son. Jackman’s Kenton is a loser that you know is headed for undeserved redemption in much the same way as his character Wolverine did in the X-Men movies, only here he has slightly better sideburns.
Real Steel is a film better felt than analyzed. Jackman once again has a great deal of fun playing a one-dimensional narcissist, and the extended gratuitous scene where he removes his shirt so that the women in the audience can ogle his physique, a scene similarly exploited in Baz Luhrmann’s wonderfully tawdry Australia (2008), is transparently comical.
For those of you who care, and I doubt there are many, a down on his luck Jackman is looking for the elusive robot whose ticket he can ride to fame and financial reward. By a twist of cruel fate, Jackman is forced to take temporary custody of his alienated son, and the two of them form a tenuous partnership that leads to some ludicrous moments of tormented parental bonding. What follows are preposterous yet entertaining scenes where this young boy is repeatedly put in harm’s way, leaving you wondering how Jackman’s character avoided being yanked into court by the Children and Family Services Departments of the various states he was traveling through.
A shut-in novice could guess where this film is going. Father and son find a cute robot who can take a powerful licking and keep on ticking. He’s kind of like a steroid version of Wall-E in the movie of the same title, only here he can literally kick the shit out of any opponent. Jackman loves the robot, the robot loves the kid, and the only thing that ends up missing is the three of them closing their eyes and saying over and over, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.”
Evangeline Lilly plays Bailey Tallet, the slinky garage mechanic who clearly is in love with Jackman. He blithely ignores here while she swoons over him, and there is little more chemistry between the two of them than between Jackman and Nicole Kidman in the above-mentioned Australia.
The strongest performance in the film comes from Dakota Goyo as young Max Kenton, Charlie’s son. Though he is so insufferably perky at times that you resist hoping he dies, or at least is seriously injured, there is real warmth generated in his relationship with their robot called Atom, and the climatic scenes, though utterly predictable, generate some genuine pathos and excitement.
I’ve read some reviews for Real Steel that used the hackneyed cliché, “it will have you standing up and cheering in the end.” Quite frankly, whenever I see that phrase, I know it comes from some reviewer doing nothing more than shilling for the movie industry. Nonetheless, while you won’t be doing anything similar at the end of Real Steel, I suspect you will have a hard time resisting its admitted emotional gravitational pull.
No, I wasn’t cheering from my seat, but I was smiling at those in the audience who were. To quote Joan Jett, “I hate myself for loving you.”