There is a placid opening to Real Steel. It’s Americana hue; wide-open vistas, the open road, country fairs in the middle of nowhere; old-fashioned Mum and apple pie and robot boxing rodeos…wait a second?
It’s the not too distant future (2020 to be exact) and Hugh Jackman is Charlie Kenton, an ex-boxer for whom not a lot going right. He plies his trade going from fair to fair with whatever robot boxer his fluctuating financial affairs can scrape together. He’s in debt and drink up to his gloves. In need of redemption you’d imagine. And you’d be right. Robots have replaced humans in the boxing universe and The World Robot Boxing League is the ultimate fighting championship of the future. Like the Superbowl played by animatronic android athletes.
Except Charlie Kenton is at the bottom of the rung with a kid he doesn’t know and a succession of useless robots. On cue, enter his obnoxious, charmless son, Max (Dakota Goya – obnoxious and, eh, charmless). Some unspecified reason has killed his mother and hey presto he’s in his wayward father’s custody. A wealthy well-to-do aunt is desperate to take Max in and Charlie is only too glad, but if it was that easy we wouldn’t have much a theme or plot. Father and son must play out their relationship amid the clanking and crunching of metal and steel Rocky parallels.
It’s an elementally silly concept but then so is a lot of science-fiction. Maybe it’s Jackman shouting fight combos – “Shock Pain Revolution Uppercut!” – the blatant robot / father / son correlations: boy finds the chosen bot, boy bonds with bot, boy trains bot, boy finds the father he always wanted in bot form! Maybe it’s my inner cynic let loose, but this film fails to inspire much in awe or wonder that the best science fiction can provide.
Jackman is likeable and his presence certainly carries the movie well enough and there’s interesting juxtaposition within the movie’s settings. A post-industrial wasteland of old industry, a world of mad man-esque punks and bikers and the Americana feel mentioned above, before it loses most of it ramping up towards a glitzy, showbiz, big-time ending. Evangeline Lily is limited in her role and nobody else stands out to any great degree – oh yes the robots! How could I forget? Loud, vacuous fun.