A movie with the soft heart (and by that, I mean the gooey, inspiring chunk) of Rocky, yet the solid, shiny outer shell of Transformers, Real Steel is a can’t miss for pure entertainment. Oh, and — despite a whole lot of robot brawling — this is one of the better kids films of the season. Honest.
Okay, maybe it’s not a kids film by definition, but this one is good for kids. I dare you to name another tale that delivers such a warm message about the bond between father and son, yet does so surrounded by Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em creations that gleefully tear each other’s limbs off for sport. It’s quite something, I tell ya.
In Real Steel, the year is 2020, and robots have replaced humans in the boxing ring. Former prize fighter Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is spending his days and nights dodging loan sharks and booking one has-been robot after another in hopes of scoring a few paydays. He’s not a nice guy by any means, but … well, he’s Hugh Jackman, and for that, we’re cheering for him to stay in one piece, unlike the overglorified tin cans that he’s banking on in the ring.
But opportunity, ethical or not, comes knocking in the form of Max (Dakota Goyo), Charlie’s estranged son. With his mother dead and his aunt wanting custody, Max becomes an extremely valuable bargaining chip for Charlie. So, with a price tag on the kid’s head, Max spends the summer with Charlie, a season in which the two strangers find a discarded robot named Atom, a rusty collection of nuts and bolts, but with a fighting, almost human spirit. Begin the most unlikely underdog run since Balboa’s glory days and the two come together as a boy and his pop should while enjoying the ride.
Again, Real Steel owes a lot to the hokey-yet-undeniably winsome magic of Rocky, which shouldn’t come as a shocker. You want inspiration, why not use the best blueprint there is? What is a legitimate surprise is how innovative the core of Real Steel is; based on a 1950s Richard Matheson short story, it does make for interesting conversation. What if robots/cyborgs, etc., were to replace athletes in competition, relegating humans to the sideline as programmers? Could make for deep stuff, for sure. But Real Steel gives equal time to kid gloves and boxing gloves, and pulls out a win. It’s a well-oiled machine, this one.
Out of a possible five stars, I’ll give Real Steel a three and a half. The feature is currently playing at the Pen-Mar Cinema Centre.
Jason Armstrong is a movie reviewer living in the Okanagan.