There’s a lot to like in “
Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots Real Steel”, there really is. There’s some great CGI, they’re definitely pulling the best pages out of the inspirational/sports movie playbook to crib off of, and there’s enough uniqueness provided via the high concept of fighting robots to add some flair and some excitement along the way.
Unfortunately, you have to dig through a mound of clichés, and you absolutely can’t hold it up under any sort of scrutiny or it will collapse in front of you like a house of cards. The minute you ask something like say… “Wait, how does this kid know so much about robotics,” or “Hang on a second, I thought this guy was broke, how is he filling that huge trailer with gas every ten minutes”… you’re completely toast.
Still, if you’re looking for some lighthearted fun, and you don’t turn an overly critical eye to it, “Real Steel” is a fun time at the movies.
The high concept of “Real Steel” is that in the near future, combat sport fighting between humans (boxing, MMA, etc) has been replaced by fighting between remote controlled robots. Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is an ex boxer from the end of the era, who spends his time now scraping by trying to make money at low-level robot fights. The phrase “Down on his luck” applies. He’s broke, he’s lost his last robot, and he owes gambling money to the kind of people you don’t want to owe money to.
Of course, Charlie’s luck is about to change, because he’s suddenly forced to take care of his estranged son after the boy’s mother dies.
Together, Charlie and his son stumble across a broken down sparring robot in a scrap yard. At the kid’s insistence, they salvage the robot and get it involved in a couple of street level matches. Of course, against the odds, this junky robot and his scrappy kid handler begin to win and gain popularity… eventually getting a shot at the title.
If it sounds like a lot of clichés, that’s because there are. In fact, clichés are the movies biggest problem, even ahead of improbability, and we’re talking about a movie about the sport of robot boxing! “Down on his luck ex-competitor,” “Plucky kid suddenly dropped off on parents doorstep,” “Wet blanket girlfriend who turns believer at the end,” and “Gambling bad guy with thugs out to collect what he’s owed” all make appearances. The movie also SHAMELESSLY rips off genre classics… it should practically give “Rocky” royalties.
And yet, I have to admit. As formulaic as it was, I liked it. I mean, not a ton, it won’t make my top ten this year or anything, but I can’t bag on it too badly, even if that’s very easy to do. For one thing, the robot fights are fun. I mean, the CGI is good and the sound is really good, and it’s just a fun thing to watch. And as much as I was conscious of the fact that they were pressing emotional buttons according to the underdog movie instruction manual, they were pushing the right buttons. By the end of the movie, you’ll care just enough about Charlie and his kid and their scrap-yard robot to overlook some of the movie’s weaknesses and enjoy the show.
By the end, you’re probably not standing and cheering… but you are probably sporting a smile on your face.