Have you ever seen a movie that doesn’t know what it’s trying to be? Films with such identity crises are train wrecks. You’d think that the bigger they are, the harder they’d fall, making for fun disasters to watch. But such is not always the case. Take ‘Real Steal’, for example.
In the future, boxing disappears. Not entirely, but the way we know it is gone. It turns out that the boxing leagues, in an attempt to win over the bloodthirsty fans of MMA, started pitting remote controlled robots against one another. Finally, fans of grisly brutal violence could see contestants dismembered and decapitated.
Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) was one of the last human boxers to take the ring. Just as he was about to gain the world’s attention, robo-boxing picked up and he was left in the dust. Trying to transfer that same positive boxing energy to the future of the sport, Charlie took to becoming the programmer behind the controller – only he was never as good at it as he was in the ring.
Now, with debt from bad bets owed to several powerful loan sharks, Charlie doesn’t have a robot to fight with. Every time he gets a new prospective robot, Charlie’s ego and arrogance cause him to blow it and lose any chance he had of making it big. Things only get worse when his ex-wife passes away and custody of their child, whom he hasn’t seen in years, passes over to him.
With no other choice, Charlie takes his kid into the dirty and dangerous world of underground robo-boxing – including stealing scrap parts from a wrecking yard. There, Charlie’s bastard kid Max finds an intact first-generation sparring bot that he believes can go the distance and play in the big league. For some reason, Charlie seems to deem it a worthwhile activity to appease the kid’s desire, and they go for it.
‘Real Steel’ opens like an indie drama and quickly turns into a zany and odd Spielberg picture, showing robots go head-to-head with angry bulls in county fair rodeos. Shortly after it establishes that tone, we meet the annoying kid Max. I can’t stand bad attitude kids who mouth off, so why would I want to watch a 127-minute movie with one?
I like watching robots punch it out as much as anyone else – and I’m sure that’s what audiences are expecting to see with ‘Real Steel’ this weekend. But you’re not going to find it here. Believe it or not, the majority of ‘Real Steel’ consists of talking, talking and more talking. The characters never shut up and let anything happen. ‘Real Steel’ is hardly about robo-boxing, but the characters behind it. Really, ‘Real Steel’ is nothing more than ‘Over the Top’ with boxing robots instead of arm wrestling.
A huge problem with ‘Real Steel’ is that the movie doesn’t have a villain or any struggle. There’s literally no bad guy to defeat. The second half of the film tries to create one, but there’s no gravity given to the situation. Charlie and Max decide to pit their robot against the most famous undefeated bot in the world – but the people behind the other bot aren’t evil or bad people. And pitting their bot against the other is like pitting me against Mike Tyson. I wouldn’t last more than three seconds in the ring.
The moment that I checked out of ‘Real Steel’ is when Max puts his bot into “shadow mode,” a setting that makes him mirror the actions of his trainer, and begins dancing. Disney just had to put its stamp on this movie. A kid and a robot dancing to hip hop? ‘Real Steel’ is nothing more than scrap metal.
Considering the high amount of slow-motion spinning shots and non-stop product placement, ‘Real Steal’ is two lens flares shy of being a Michael Bay movie.
If I had to choose between spending my money on ‘Real Steel’ or ‘The Ides of March’ this weekend, I’d pick the “talkie” that doesn’t feature annoying kids, lame action action sequences and dancing robots.