Real Steel | Film review
The meatsacks get more face time than the robots in Shawn Levy’s cornball sci-fi sports movie.
A big part of the appeal of boxing—some would say its main appeal—is the element of physical danger that accompanies two flesh-and-blood guys trading blows in a ring. There lies the fundamental flaw in Real Steel’s manufacturing: Its basic premise—a future where human boxers have been replaced by hulking, remote-controlled pugilists—hinges on showdowns in which the only thing at stake is the survival of a big hunk of soulless hardware. Even the Transformers films, bless their cold, computerized hearts, had the good sense to invest their fighting machines with consciousness. Here, we might as well be watching Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots: The Movie.
Still, if you go into Real Steel expecting nonstop droid-on-droid action, you’ll leave wondering who let the weepy meatsacks hog the spotlight. The real focus is on Hugh Jackman’s wily promoter, an ex-fighter who now sits ringside, barking orders at mechanical heavyweights. Things get complicated when he takes temporary custody of his estranged son (Dakota Goyo, quite the little hambone); the two end up bonding over the success of a rusty underdog with a useful shadowboxing function.
Director Shawn Levy tosses in Spielbergian daddy issues along with every other cliché in the sports-movie playbook. His biggest cheat is working his way around an Asimovian moral quandary. By staying coy on the subject of sentience, Real Steel lets us get attached to its scrap-yard scrapper without ever having to feel too guilty about the way his owners constantly put his ass on the line for money.