Charlie Kenton is one of those poor shlubs you see drifting through life, getting by on a winning smile and his ability to disappear when money is owed. He’d tell you he can never catch a break, but if you know him for more than five minutes, you can tell he is his own worst enemy. Luckily he has a good woman named Bailey (Evangeline Lilly) to watch his back. As owner of Tallet’s Gym, where Kenton burned up his youth trying to be a boxing star, she provides a semi-safe haven where Kenton can lick his wounds and prepare for his next colossal failure. In walks Max (Dakota Goyo), the son Charlie always knew about but never cared to claim as his own. His mom has just died and Aunt Debra and her rich husband have agreed to take full custody...after a quick jaunt to Italy. Charlie sees a chance for quick cash and agrees to sign over all parental rights and deliver the boy upon their return to the states. Child brokering has never been so adorable. One snag. Max is no sniveling orphan boy with a quivering lip. He cons his way into Charlie’s passenger seat for a summer of underground robot boxing and ADVENTURE!!
Max is like a less annoying and way funnier Anakin Skywalker with an angel face and dance moves that would make any robot bust out a cabbage patch. The writers of Real Steal were clearly making a family friendly film but didn’t get caught up in the usual trappings like the sickeningly cute kid, schmaltzy forced bonding moments or even catchy future speak. WIZARD! The story unfolds along a logical line with Charlie slowly realizing that if he can get out of his own way for two minutes, he might just be a success. This is a long road though, so we are allowed those guffaw inducing scenes of child endangerment and neglect. Still, Hugh Jackman is so damn likable, it works! This is Over the Top with a little Rocky thrown in and the mildest dash of Bad News Bears to keep the whole thing from rotting your teeth out with sugary sweet sensibilities. The result is a highly entertaining, funny film that will have you cheering for a battle bot!
I give the creators of this film high marks for creating a future where the rich have access to the future’s full compliment of gadgets and devices while the poor live…well pretty much like we do! There is no Thunderdome to be found here. Even in the back alley robo-brawling pits, there is still cold beer for everyone. It is all incredibly upbeat. I also give credit for creating a very realistic father/son relationship. Max inadvertently shadows his father’s sensibilities (which in this case makes him a little abrasive). He is the perfect scrappy kid. The two are living their own lives and rather than seeking out the “ideal” family they never had, it is more about common ground and understanding. This creates a dynamic that makes sense, so that by the time we reach the movie’s conclusion, you really do want the best for our heroes.
OH YEA..There are ROBOTS in this movie too!! Danny Elfman creates a driving soundtrack with plenty of beats by Eminem to fuel moments of robo-rage in the ring. The music is slick enough to convey the intensity of the techno-brutality we are about to see, but not so intimidating that we notice the crowd is actually screaming for blood (as it were.) It’s is pretty genius! The robots themselves feel very real, almost to the point where they are no big deal. These are giant toy puppets run by controllers who only cry over lost winnings when their bot is torn apart in the ring, so personality only goes as far as their paint job. We are a loooong way away from the R2D2 future here. Our hero Atom, on the other hand, is given moments where you almost think he is alive and just as fueled by Max’s screaming to continue the fight as he is by his power cells. Again, these moments are handled with the utmost care, leaving all speculation as to his “Johnny 5” state of being up to the viewer. Of course, I say all of this as a jaded, grumbling adult. Kids are sure to go berserk over these giant robots.
Real Steel is BALLSY! In a world where we expect all sorts of shenanigans by suits who, excited by the designs of the battle bots, would no doubt give volumes of input on where they think this family friendly, action packed tale should go to ensure they get maximum dollar return from merchandising and potential sequels, we instead get a wildly (even unexpectedly) amusing film with bucket loads of charisma to keep you smiling. With nothing really meaty to go up against this weekend, I fully expect Real Steel to win at the box office, but I feel the marketing may be missing its core audience. KIDS!! This movie is 99% squeaky clean (that 1% being from a little beating that happens late in the film), so take your kids and applaud a movie that doesn’t force the lead child actor to curse or deliver an obscene gesture for a cheap laugh. Hell, there isn't even a poop joke or fart noise to be found here. This is the sort of action packed, sweet, funny movie I look forward to taking my 7 yr old nephew to see. Grab a kid and go!
NOTE: Yes ladies, Jackman takes his shirt off, so grab your boyfriend and go as well. ;)