Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Real Steel

Get out your robots and boxing metaphors, we're reviewing Real Steel!

It's the feel good robot boxing movie of the year.  If this became the new Rocky franchise in which they churned out movie after movie of various robots smackin' each other around, I wouldn't mind that much.  Get some action figures, a comic, a semi-good cgi cartoon, heck, this is one of the movies I'm just flabbergasted isn't already a semi-good videogame(If you wanted that experience try picking up Rock 'em Sock 'em Arena for the PS. I mean, that's a dino robot there.) Anyways, about the movie...

Charlie Kenton(Hugh Jackman) is a down n' out retired boxer who spends his days controlling beat-up robots to make some big money. Except he's not all that good at keeping them together. And he has a gambling problem with mounting debts. Enter his son Max(Dakota Goyo) who wants a father but Charlie wants nothing to do with.  He uses Max to swindle some cash out of the relatives who want custody. But then Max and Charlie find a beat-up old sparring bot named Atom and Charlie finds his new champion.

I really enjoyed this movie. It's just a lot of fun. Think of this as the good Transformers, as in a trope-filled popcorn flick with fighting giant robots, except this one has well written characters, meaningful story arcs, and a whole lot of heart.  When you put down a crappy film for being crappy and people ask, "well what do you expect? It's not supposed to be a masterpiece." I expect this.  I expect a well put-together film.

It's a nice little boxing redemption story with a the main hero they literally pulled out of the garbage who goes on to the big leagues. If that's not an underdog story, I don't know what is.

Charlie is a huge cocky jerk, so his transformation to upstanding father figure is believable and interesting. Max is funny and cute and not annoying as most kiddy characters are. They have some great back and forth and you can feel the animosity as well as the love.  You hate all the right characters you're supposed to hate for all the right reasons, especially Kevin Durand who's a right asshole. And I really liked Evangeline Lilly, who I never really cared about in LOST all that much, but had nice arc here.

What makes the movie is the robot fighting. It's everything you'd think it would be and more. The animation and graphics are outstanding.  It's hard to figure out which parts are cgi and which are animatronics. Each robot has a distinct look and personality, from the put-together from parts junkyard monster, to the badass with the mohawk, to the big black behemoth.  And they're all interesting enough to warrant their own action figure.

They may not have gone into it in depth, but I really like how they implant a kind of personality into each of these robots.  After awhile, you start to wonder if these are just the programed quirks put in by their programming masters, or if the robots really take on a life of their own. This is especially true for the main bot, Atom. See, he has a shadow boxing program, so he always mimics the person in front of him, and everyone just sort of starts talking to Atom like he's real and knows what they're going through. Is there really something in there or are they all just implanting their own personalities onto him like a blank slate and seeing what they want to see?

I can't say it's an amazing film, there's nothing too fancy about the cinematography, and while the soundtrack does its job, it's largely forgetful. But the story is very tight, and what they set up, works very well.

THE GOOD: Great robot fighting, great story and acting, all around fun
THE BAD: not really amazing, fairly tongue in cheek
OVERALL: It's a fun film if you like robots or boxing at all. I'd recommend seeing it in theaters as its a great film worth at least the price of admission.
ONE SCENE METAPHOR: Atom's first real fight is with this junkyard bot. Max is really excited but Charlie's not into it. It feels like a big cliche, he's fighting his first easy bot in the crappiest place so he can move up on the rung, but because Max, Charlie and even Atom have such good character, the whole thing works.

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