In the near future when people become uninterested in boxing and similar sports, a new sport is created - Robot boxing wherein robots battle each other while being controlled by someone. Charlie Kenton, a former boxer who's trying to make it in the new sport, not only doesn't do well, he is very deeply in the red. When he learns that his ex, mother of his son Max, dies, he goes to figure out what to do with him. His ex's sister wants to take him in but Charlie has first say in the matter. Charlie asks her husband for money so he can buy a new Robot in exchange for turning Max over to them. He takes Max for the summer. And Max improves his control of his robot. But when the robot is destroyed, they go to a scrap yard to get parts. Max finds an old generation robot named Atom and restores him. Max wants Atom to fight but Charlie tells him he won't last a round. However, Atom wins. And it isn't long before Atom is getting major bouts. Max gets Charlie to teach Atom how to fight, and the ... Written by
Forced sentiment and uninvolving sports action leaves generally average and predictable noise for children only
Let's ignore for the minute the fact that this film was pretty much critic proof it really didn't matter what was said when it released, those that saw the trailer and thought "two please" were going to be there no matter what to see robots hitting each other. I apologise if that sounds snobby, but I don't mean it that way because in fairness, although I waited for the DVD, I still came to the film prepared to leave my brain at the door and enjoy some family-friendly sports action. Sadly I wasn't quite prepared for how low-level the vast majority of the film is.
I'll deal with my personal problem with it first the sports side simply isn't exciting. I say that as someone who gets weepy very easily when it comes to sports movies the underdog coming good to defeat the champ while the music swells thing pretty much always has me pretending that I need to blow my nose in another room for the next 5 minutes; but yet here? Nothing. The final fight is reasonably good and at least doesn't totally overdo it, but I never felt into the fights, never felt the drama of the or got lost in them as a spectator. And again, at the risk of repeating myself, I say that as someone who was on the edge of my seat during the main fight of Rocky 6. Real Steel doesn't really deliver in this realm and it is a real shame because that is an easy string to pull for the audience.
Part of the reason it doesn't work is the fact that it is all special effects. They are very good effects, but they are still special effects and I found myself watching it with a bemused curiosity like I did when Robot Wars used to be on BBC2 on a Friday evening. Indeed, that is how it was for me just bemusement rather than investment because the things are not real and never even felt close to being real. This isn't helped by the way the film is as predictable as it is clunky. The direction of the fight story (from junk yard to title shot) is as obvious as the emotional journey (bad relationship to good one) and the writers seem to have struggled to raise their energy for such a predictable trudge, because the dialogue is corny as hell and clunks around the screen more than the robots do. The cast do what they can and I did feel for Jackman working his heart out, but even he struggled to make it work.
Of course working with Goyo, he was always in a tough spot because this kid is annoying from start to finish. It doesn't help that Goyo is given dialogue that doesn't suit his character but also he spends most of the film being an ass, just like Jackman has to do; so after a while you realise that while you know where these characters are going, you don't actually like them very much for a big section of the movie. Lilly looks cute, not much else while Mackie gets a nice pay day for doing nothing much.
The sequel will come of course and it will be more of the same because it will sell like this one did, however it is hard to not be disappointed with it. OK it is for kids but why does that excuse it from being a good film? The sports action is noisy but heartless and everything else about it is clunky and predictable; the effects look good and technically it is impressive but it just never gets going and it always feels like the producers decided that the concept and the effects would get people in the door, so as long as they deliver on the concept (robots hitting each other) then there is no real need to worry the details (details like character, dialogue, heart and general plotting). Average at best this.
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