Real Steel steps into the ring

By Mike Shames
[senior entertainment writer]

Grade: B+

Who remembers Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots? Ever thought there should be a movie that combines those with Rocky?

Well, Real Steel is the answer.

Unlike a certain trilogy, there are big bots bashing each other, and — more importantly — it’s good. It doesn’t pander or talk down to kids, and many people will enjoy its story.

Hugh Jackman stars as Charlie Kenton, a former boxer trying to make it in robot boxing competitions, who’s down on his luck. In debt to loan sharks, he tries to get a new robot to fight with when his son Max (Dakota Goyo) is dropped into Charlie’s life.

After losing yet another fight, he raids a junkyard where Max finds a complete robot, names him Atom and convinces his reluctant dad to train the bot. If you’ve seen the Rocky movies, this is starting to sound extremely familiar. It’s a boxing movie cliche, but we love it, so Real Steel doesn’t lose too many points.

Jackman is wonderful as Rocky — er Charlie –– making him both despicable and redeemable. The delivery of this character draws you into the world. Charlie starts out as cold but he does have a passion for what he’s doing, and sometimes his dreams are beyond his reach. So enters Dakota Goyo as Max Kenton, a son Charlie walked out on. This kid is awesome as an actor, not just a child actor. At first it’s impossible to believe he is Charlie’s kid, but through some scenes, both subtle and a little obvious, you start to see parts of Charlie in Max, making it believable. And Max is no saint, like his father he’s smart but stubborn to the point of blindly chasing his dreams. He’s also a troublemaker, not only manipulating his own father into bringing him along, but also dragging Atom into fights it was never designed for and against increasingly tougher and bigger opponents. And so the other cliche enters the ring: a compatible interest/passion begins healing years of separation.

For whatever reason these combined cliches make a very enjoyable movie. Like Rocky, the audience cheers for the underdog. The fight scenes can be enjoyed by all ages, and it treats the audience as grown ups – not sparing anything scary or brutal. The robots themselves are wonderfully designed, going from backyard-brawlers, put together with scraps to sleek, high-tech prize fighters. And each robot’s persona reflects their operator’s, while still being individuals. The script is well-written, using both silence and the unspoken to make the father-son bond show and grow.

Problems? Well, as mentioned before this is a cliché story, and while the audience gets deeply invested, upon reflection some might feel a bit duped. The supporting chase is clichéd as well but again also fairly solid.

This well-loved cliché has found a way to tug at our heartstrings and give us a wonderful movie. Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo play off each other well, and throw themselves into their roles with everything they have. The enthusiasm is infectious as you will find yourself cheering for Rocky — er Atom — to win. Take your family too, Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots are always a thrill.

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