Real Steel takes audiences on a rip-roaring ride
One of the first images in Shawn Levyâs Real Steel is the reflection of a dazzling carnival, superimposed over a rough-edged, worn out Hugh Jackman.
In the scene that follows, Jackmanâs character, Charlie Kenton, tries to pocket a little cash at the carnival by controlling a robot in a fight against a bull â the year is 2020, and bullfighting has turned into machines tackling and dealing out blows to the bulls.
The beginning scenes force audiences to think about technologyâs presence in an ever-changing world. Particularly, how can human performers stay in high demand amid the massive proliferation of technological entertainment, like video games and artificial intelligence?
The two hours that follow the tantalizing first sequence, however, fail to fully explore the implications and depth of this idea.
The filmmakers instead opted for simple, crowd-pleasing motifs like redemption and compassion, making the film less impactful while remaining mainstream.
In that spirit, even if Levyâs film is not terribly compelling, it is admittedly exemplary and often grin-inducing popcorn entertainment.
The story, which is closely focused on the relationship between Charlie and his eleven-year-old-son, Max (Dakota Goyo), with whom Charlie has spent virtually no time, unfolds at a breakneck pace.
After learning about his wifeâs death and inheriting custody of Max, Charlie finds himself down-and-out in the robot boxing trade, indebted to numerous promoters and without a solid robot to enter into competitions. He is much more concerned about money than he is about his son, who likes little about his father other than his affiliation with robots.
A robot Max discovers at a junkyard, potentially the key to Charlieâs comeback, prompts a story arc in which father and son come to realize each otherâs true value. This arc will likely achieve one of the filmâs central goals: pleasing audiences, especially kids and their families.
Apart from the absence of any real thematic edge, the film has other flaws. One that particularly stands out is the casting of Goyo as Max; a character who is supposed to be endearingly feisty comes off instead as shrill and overzealous.
This is largely because of a discrepancy between the character of Max on the page and the realization on screen: Goyo has too little charisma and too much sensitivity for the daring, ragged and foul-mouthed son of rough-and-tumble Charlie.
Levyâs directing, however, is utterly sincere, making it much easier for audiences to get on board with a story that some might otherwise consider silly. And the visual effects are pristine; the computer-generated robots have been integrated beautifully into dazzling live-action environments.
One particularly memorable and clever sequence involves Max revealing a talent for dance, which his robot, Atom, adopts when he mirrors Maxâs movements. Charlie suggests that Max make this boy-and-robot dance a ritual before each fight. When Max finally does so, the result is incredibly enjoyable to watch and goes a long way to closing the emotional gap between the audience and Maxâs character.
Ultimately, the aspects of the movieâs intriguing themes, though not fully explored, give the film higher credibility and make for a more thought-provoking cinematic experience.