Cast: Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Evangelline Lilly
Directed by Shawn Levy
Thanks to Michael Bay, I had totally given up hopes of watching a well executed bot-mayhem on the big screen. That was until I caught the latest Hugh Jackman starrer, Real Steel. Though from the promos I was expecting it to be yet another Trash-former mould metal bash ‘em up, I was pleasantly surprised to find that director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum, Date Night) has churned up quite a decent flick.
Based on a short story by Richard Matheson, Real Steel narrates a tale set in the distant future where humans are no longer used in fighting sports. Instead they are replaced by human controlled machines that slug it out in the ring, be it the big leagues or the shady underground circuits.
And struggling to make some money off these robot bouts is a former boxer Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) with his trash bots. Each time one is dismissed to the junkyard, he is back at his girlfriend (Evengelline Lily)’s gym, assembling up yet another one right from scrap.
Though luck seem to have deserted Charlie totally when it comes to these fighting assignments, it shines on him when he is given the custody of his eleven year old son, Max, on the death of his ex. Certainly in more need of cash than a son at this juncture, he makes a financial deal with the boy’s custody seekers to look after the kid only for the summer, in exchange for a huge load of money.
However, finding Max to be a handful to deal with, Charlie is forced to take the kid along his trips. And it is on such a trip out that Max stumbles upon an old boxing bot which he drags back home. Max, soon enough, gets his new pet-bot ‘Atom’ into shape, and keen to test him out in the fighting ring. And idea to which an unimpressed Charlie reluctantly agrees. Before you know it, Atom finds himself in the top league of the robot boxers and gets that coveted title shot with the ultimate champion bot. But are our underdogs up for it?
This is the typical ‘David vs Goliath’ sports genre flick where the writers have ensured that they do not miss a single cliché beat. You know everything that is going to happen and the script never tries to do anything differently. We are never told how far into the future this is, but it is set in a time where Iphones are still in fad, Dr.Peppers is your first choice soda and Eminem remains the ‘in’ thing in those underground joints. Product placements galore, the writing is primarily indolent with situations rather conveniently drafted in. Despite all these, the film’s amiable characteristics work its charm and you find yourself rooting for the good guys. And reasons are plenty.
For starters, director Shawn Levy scores high when it comes to the execution of the fight sequences between the metal warriors. He avoids the mistakes that Bay usually makes where the viewers fail to follow the action with all the shoddy camerawork and metals flung in from everywhere. Here the action and the FX are crisp enough that you are very much in the thick of the action. The production values are top-notch, with excellent visual FX and animatronics, but that is given considering the executive producers of the film include the likes of Spielberg and Zemeckis.
Levy does manage to balance all the action off well with the emotional sappiness thus ensuring that the core of the whole storytelling remains human enough. The metal chunk, Atom, manages to strike an instant connection with the audiences, sans any dialogues or expressions. The father-son bonding may be forcibly thrust into the narration to keep the family drama going. Yet, at the risk of bogging down the narrative, it is a factor that works in the movie’s favour eventually.
Secondly, we have Hugh Jackman, whose charismatic persona makes it easy for us to take his corner, despite all the glaring flaws of Charlie. However, it must be added that Jackman still gets overshadowed by the most sci-fi aspect of the movie – the over zealous eleven year old, Max. Played by the latest ‘Look-I-am-too-mature-for-my-age’ Dakota – Dakota Goyo , it is a character that gets as unrealistic as possible. The eleven year old is asked to mouth the dialogues and behave in a manner that would have you rolling your eyes in total bafflement. Goyo does portray the role well, no doubt. But one do wish it was a more grounded character.
Thus Real Steel, a Dreamworks collaboration with Reliance Entertainment, might not be the new Rocky or Gladiator. In that sense this one is way off from landing the knockout punch. But being the family friendly, crowd pleaser that it is, Real Steel has enough mettle to pull in the younger audiences and going by the cheers and applause from the audiences at my screening, this one scores enough technical points to see it through the box office rounds!