Real Steel

No, Hugh Jackman does not fight a robot.
"Champions aren't born. They're made."

Hey everybody, welcome to a new week and a new Tagline! Today I'm going to talk about Real Steel, a movie which I did not see when it came out last October (I can't see EVERY movie in theaters, but I get around to most of them sooner or later, especially when they're about boxing robots). This movie stars Hugh Jackman (probably best known for his portrayal of the X-Men character Wolverine, in numerous movies, some of which were even good) as Charlie Kenton, a former boxer who now controls fighting robots, in a near future world where people beating each other up as a sport has been replaced by robots beating each other up. Charlie is clearly in a tailspin towards rock bottom as the movie begins, over his head in debt with some very not nice people, and desperate to try and make money however he can. During this time, he is summoned to sign over parental rights to his abandoned 11 year old son Max to the kid's aunt and uncle (the implication is that old Charlie-boy was never in the picture). Charlie agrees to take care of the boy for the summer, but extorts money out of the kid's uncle in exchange (The aunt and uncle are going on vacation and the uncle doesn't want the kid along). Charlie immediately pisses away the money on a robot that gets demolished, and then resorts to digging in a scrapyard for parts. There the two stumble over an old sparring robot, and with Max's constant cajoling, they refit it to be a fighting bot.

What's not to like about fighting robots?
When I first saw trailers for this movie, I thought "wow, it's rock 'em sock 'em robots, the movie." Nothing I saw during the movie changed my mind about that assumption, but that doesn't rule out the possibility of an entertaining movie. At its core, the concept is sound. If you could have robots tear each other to pieces (literally) wouldn't you watch that shit? Hell yes you would, because robots beating each other up is freaking awesome. The central story behind the robots, the whole "no good guy with kid becomes good guy with kid" isn't exactly breaking any new ground, and it is pretty bare bones in its execution, but it serves as a reasonable back drop for some genuinely cool robot animatronics and motion capture CG. Honestly I feel like for once I can say that they didn't spend enough time with the fighting robots, which to me were more interesting than the very cliche human drama that was the backdrop. I wanted to know more about how the league worked, see more robots and get a better feel for this future world, but honestly you see a very narrow scope for that, and only 4 or 5 different robots. That's understandable given that they actually used animatronic models (albeit heavily enhanced with CG) but still I found it disappointing. The CG that is on display here is pretty great, the fact that they used real objects as a base helps to give the robots a sense of realism that would have been completely absent with just straight up CG. Also, the robots you see in the movie are just plain cool.

I really want this terrifying Japanese robot.
That being said, the performances in this film were surprisingly sincere given the unoriginal premise, and everyone (including 12 year old Dakota Goyo) delivered a solid performance. If you don't like Hugh Jackman, this movie probably won't endear him to you, but if you do then you will appreciate the enthusiasm he shows on screen in this film. There are plenty of movies with similarly 'silly' plots and gimmicks, that are much worse because you can tell the actors are regretting their decision to be involved in them. You won't get any of that off of Jackman (in this or any movie, the guy either has fuck-awful taste in movies or is the most agreeable actor alive) who shadow boxes a CG robot with the fury of a real boxer, in the ring against a human opponent. I can appreciate someone who gives 100% no matter what, you really don't see that as often as you'd hope.

Robots, how silly. Not like sparkly vampires, or comic books!
Real Steel did pretty well in the box office, grossing 295 million against a 110 million budget. The film received mixed reviews from critics, for some good reasons and some dumb reasons. As I mentioned above, the film presents a pretty simplistic characterization, which isn't great, but is serviceable. The premise was apparently too ridiculous for some critics, which I suppose I can understand if you hate cool robots who box, but also I can't understand because if you could make man sized robots boxed well who the hell wouldn't pay money to see that? (people pay money to see wheeled remote controlled 'robots' cut each other with rotary saws for crying out loud) Also people seemed really annoyed that it was two hours long, but my attention span isn't that short so I didn't have a problem with that. One critic noted that this movie would be better if it hadn't mixed solid near future sci-fi with sentimental father-son story, and I agree that probably would have been a better movie, but still this movie is more than serviceable. Come for the robots at least.

That's all for today! I'll see you all Thursday, when I think I'll have a John Cusack movie for you!

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