In the near future robots have replaced humans in the boxing ring, imagine Robot Wars with 8-foot humanoid and no Craig Charles. In this world Charlie (Hugh Jackman) is a former fighter now resorting to showing off a clapped out robot at county fairs. Taking a bet a little too far, Charlie ruins his robot just as his estranged son Max (Dakota Goyo) turns up looking for a parent after the death of his mother. After essentially selling his son to the boy’s aunt, Charlie reluctantly agrees to take Max on the road while his rich new parents enjoy one last holiday alone together. While searching for spare parts Max finds an old sparring robot called Atom, steals it (good message for the kids) and the duo spruce him up, win a surprising number of fights and learn to love each other in the process. Good job they shared a common interest or the film would have had a more less cheery ending. There’s also a romantic sub-plot with Evangeline Lilly of such little consequence I wonder why she turned up to set.
Real Steel is pretty harmless family fare but for some reason it really riled me up. Perhaps it was the fact that all the adult male characters were morally corrupt, even those we were supposed to be rooting for. Maybe it was that this film with a young target audience was so violent from start to finish, but with no blood, boobs or blue language the BBFC can only really go as far as a 12A, essentially a PG for all the restrictions it applies. Or it could have been that the plot was so predictable you only need to hear the synopsis and the rest of the story falls into place in two seconds rather than the two hours you have to sit through in the cinema.
Ultimately this film just wasn’t trying very hard. There’s a chance we may have been expected to feel some empathy for Atom (the robot, pay attention); he was quite a sweet looking robot after all. Sadly the only effort Shawn Levy (director) put into humanising this metal beast was one scene in which Atom is left alone and he briefly turns to look into his own eyes in the mirror. It seemed to signal a new thread in the film which would explore the humanity of the robot, but sadly not. Instead this odd moment was just a blip and Atom returned to his basic functionality.
I don’t think it’s spoiling the film too much (certainly not as much as the trailer) to suggest that Atom and his trainers do quite well in their fights. Uplifting though this may be, it is hardly plausible in the world we are introduced to. We are constantly told that Atom is just a sparring robot and not designed to win fights and yet he does. It’s the equivalent of a punch bag becoming heavyweight boxing champion. Yes, I understand this is a kid’s film but for a 12A I expect more.
Looking for a straightforward film with plenty of not too violent violence, a heart-warming father-son story and someone from Lost? This is the film for you. Just don’t watch the trailer below if you want a modicum of surprise.
Real Steel is released this Friday 14th October.