The People’s Champion?
Some of you that are old enough may remember a time when one of the best “video games” you could play was two plastic robots on either end of a tiny ring, controlled by two buttons on each side that would cause the corresponding robot to punch with either his left or his right arm until one of the two robot’s heads popped off. This game was called Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. In order to pave the way for them to somehow turn Battleship into a movie, they decided to turn Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em into a movie to test how people would react. And then to add a little baby mamma drama into it, just to get the ladies watching. They kept the beginning initials the same, but rename the movie Real Steel, written by John Gatins, Shawn Levy, and Richard Mathis, directed by Shawn Levy, and starring Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Hope Davis, James Rebhorn, Evangeline Lilly, Karl Yune, Olga Fonda, Anthony Mackie, and Kevin Durand.
In the not too distant futures, the world has decided that the sport of boxing is far too brutal for humans to go through, so they are replaced with giant robot boxers. But also (and thank God for it) PETA seems to have disappeared because, on occasion, those giant robot boxers are allowed to fight bulls. That’s where we start off, with former boxer Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman), down on his luck and forced to take his robot, Ambush, to fit bulls. Charlie gets distracted by a cute blonde and his robot get scrapped, making Charlie skip out on the money he owes the promoter, Ricky (Kevin Durand). Charlie finds out that his ex-girlfriend died and he must attend a custody hearing for his 11-year-old son, Max (Dakota Goyo). Deciding that he is neither the paternal type, nor the type that wants to be likeable to almost any audience, Charlie not only does not want custody of his kid, but sells custody to Max’s wealthy uncle Marvin (James Rebhorn), behind the back of Max’s wealthy-by-marriage aunt Debra (Hope Davis), for $100,000. Because Marvin and Debra were about to go on vacation, Charlie agrees to take Max for three months, until they return. Charlie takes Max to the boxing gym of Charlie’s childhood friend Bailey Tallet (Evangeline Lilly) and promptly drops around $30,000 dollars on a once famous (and championship material) robot named Noisy Boy … which he quickly enrolls in an underground main event fight and gets it destroyed. Charlie and Max go to a scrapyard to find pieces to make a new robot when Max stumbles across an old, 2nd generation sparring robot named Atom. Flying in the face of all logic, Max single-handedly digs Atom out of mud and claims the robot as his own. They take it to another underground fight and find out this little robot’s got some chutzpah.
I admit being completely caught off guard by this, but this movie actually won me over. Going into this movie I figured that the robot fights would be awesome, but that they’d be flimsily held together by an ill-conceived plot and the addition of a kid reminiscent of Seven from Married … With Children. …Okay, that’s kind of exactly what happened, but it was done in a way that worked. The story is kind of one you’ve seen before … especially if you’ve seen Rocky. There are two underdogs in this movie (as opposed to the lone one they had in Rocky) in Charlie and Atom. Charlie doesn’t believe in himself anymore and his kid helps him believe in himself again. The similarities to Rocky are at their boiling point in the very end of the movie where ::SPOILER ALERT:: Atom puts up a good fight but loses the decision, settling for the “People’s Champ” booby prize. In this scene, Atom and Charlie take turns being Rocky, whereas Max takes the role of Adrian. IMDb tells me that they’re in the process of making Real Steel 2, so one can feel safe in thinking that Atom will win in the next one, fight a robot with a mohawk in the movie after that (but Charlie will probably have to die at some point), fight a behemoth Russian robot next (and make a cheesy speech about how we all can change and love each other), and then further ruin the entire memory of the series in the fifth one. Maybe, some years after that, they’ll make a coming out retirement one that tries really hard to fix what number five fucked up. ::END SPOILERS:: I found the kid parts of the movie fairly tedious for the greater majority of the movie, but then it started getting to me towards the end of the movie, causing me to get a little bit choked up about it. And before you go calling me a pussy, think to yourself why movies about daddy issues affect me so much and, if you know me, you’ll understand … and THEN you can call me a pussy. On a much more manly note, the robot fights are pretty spectacular and incredibly gripping, especially when you take into account that they’re robots with no feeling or emotion. I guess it’s because you kind of get attached to Atom, even though he only mimics movements of people around him. Of course, that lead to something that I found sickening on every occasion, but it still popped up about 3 or 4 times: Max dancing with Atom. Charlie comes up with this idea when he sees Max dancing with Atom outside of a hotel once and decides to incorporate it as a gimmick before the fight to get the audience on their side. I grant that this would probably work for some people, but I just found it annoying. Get to the robot smashing! Speaking of ::RESPOILER:: The ending bout worked for me too. I originally predicted that they would need to defeat the adaptable, super powerful champion, Zeus, by doing something unpredictable. I guessed that would be dancing to confuse Zeus. Thankfully, that was not the course they took. His remote controls damaged, Max comes up with the idea to have Atom mimic Charlie, so that Charlie would be doing the fighting via proxy. Charlie doesn’t believe in himself, Max gets him to, and though they don’t win, they whoop that ass. It’s another predictable strategy, just not the one I expected, but I thought it was very well done. ::END RESPOILERS::
The cast mostly does a fantastic job for what I went into this movie expecting. Hugh Jackman’s performance was great, but it was difficult to do with the writing being a little soft. You hate him to some degree for about an hour and a half, getting to like his character for only the last half hour of the movie. This guy basically sells his son, who he’s either never met or not seen in 90% of the kid’s life. Then, Max turns out to be more business savvy than Charlie is because Charlie’s so desperate for money that he’ll throw a robot he’s never used into a main event fight, never thinking about why a legendary champion robot could be purchased for less money than he was fixing to win in that one fight. Maybe there was something wrong with it, Charlie. These kinds of decisions lead him to get in a bad financial situation, which in turn leads to more bad decisions, which in turn leads to him getting his ass kicked by the guy that played the Blob, probably mostly in retaliation for being in that shitty Wolverine movie. But I got really confused by this beating they gave him because Charlie and Max were getting their asses beat fairly close to a truck that contained their giant, ass-kicking robot! I’m sure there’s some law against using your giant robot to beat up a guy (and I’m sure Asimov wrote these stupid laws), but there’s also a law against beating up a man and his son with your two goons. I’d call that a push. I never really liked Dakota Goyo, but I’m not sure if that’s because he was bad or just because I hate kids. I do know that I hate the kid in the movie that’s supposed to be smarter than a kid his age ever really is, but is also always trying to act tough when I know, for a fact, that I would beat the shit out of that kid. Not so tough now, are you Dakota! One thing that annoyed me about him was that he was instantly able to speak Japanese and disassemble a robot. How was he able to do this? He plays video games. Well so do I, and I also watch TONS of Japanese Anime porn, and I only know how to say “No” and “Stop raping me” in Japanese. Thankfully, I’ve had to use those two phrases a lot, but I still call bullshit on this movie for it. Evangeline Lilly was also in this movie, and pretty attractive as well, but there’s not a whole lot more to be said about that. She did, at one point, say that her plan was “trying not to let (her) gym die”, but that is not a plan. That’s something you need a plan to do, so you’re apparently in the same boat as Charlie. The performances of the robots in this movie can roughly be equated to that of Jet Li: they’re stiff and can’t really act, but they are good in the fight scenes. I never really did understand how they justified the robots getting punch drunk, though. They don’t actually have brains. I could understand parts of them not functioning from being broken, but not them staggering around the ring because they’ve been hit in the head too many times.
I was quite shocked to find that I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. Sure, it was pretty easy to make fun of because some of it is so ridiculous and pointless, but their story had won me over by the end of the movie, and the robot fights had me from the word “go”. A lot of fun as an action movie, and pretty solid as a movie in general. I say go rent this movie. I’m probably going to outright purchase it, but I understand if you don’t trust me. I’ve lied to you before. OR HAVE I?! Real Steel gets “I want you to fight for me! That’s all I ever wanted!” out of “You know you’re bringing him home in pieces, right?”
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