GENRE: Kid-friendly, Sci-Fi
THE PITCH: Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman), a down-on-his-luck former prizefighter is having a hard time making ends meet on the rough and tumble robot boxing circuit. A twist of fate leaves his son Max (Dakota Goyo) in his immature, steel cold hands. Their relationship is a complete misfire until Max finds a discarded robot named Atom that helps put them on the path towards robotic boxing infamy. Think Rocky 4 but add robots to do all the dirty work - oh ... and for kids.
MONEY SHOT: As with any fight related movie, the final bout is the showstopper. In the final act, there's an all out brawl in the ring as the smaller, unknown Atom takes on the incumbent World Robot Boxing (WRB) favorite Zeus. It's an emotionally charged, metal-crunching David versus Golliath battle with no holds barred.
BEST LINE: Charlie's new robot is none other than former WRB champion Noisy Boy, now a shell of his former self straight from his exiled career in Japan. Uncrated, Charlie tries several times to give Noisy Boy voice commands with no results. Max grabs the headset and gives a few commands in Japanese. Dumbfounded Charlie asks, "How the Hell do you know Japanese," to which Max replies, "...video games." Noisy Boy is hurting in the ring, promoter, bookie and ring announcer Finn (Anthony Mackie) yells, "Get back in that corner bitch and take it like a man!"
BEST DOUBLE ENTENDRE FOR A DEADBEAT DAD: Co-writer John Gatins must have a hard-on for dead beats because there's a lot of cheesy lines between Max and Charlie that fit equally within the ring just as well as tableside at Family and Children Services. After losing a fight, Charlie decides to scrap his robot instead of trying to repair him. A frustrated Max yells, "You Just throw away anything you don't want." When Charlie is up against the ropes after a past situation puts Max in harms way, Charlie throws in the towel. Max who seems wiser than his 11 years stops Charlie during his explanation of giving in by saying "I want you to fight for me."
BEST NAME FOR A FIGHT MOVE: During a fight with Noisy Boy, rival bot Midas delivers his signature final blow, "The Decappuccino". It doesn't take much imagination to figure out the results of this move.
PRODUCT PLACEMENT: HP is the computer system of choice in 2017. The robots are controlled using their remotes and programmed using their clear, LCD terminal displays. With a similar look, Charlie uses a fancy Nokia clear, LCD phone. But when it comes to thirst, Max and Charlie still use 2011 staples: Charlie drinks Budweiser - Max drinks lots of Dr. Pepper.
LEVEL OF VIOLENCE: Human violence - minimal. Expect a couple of minor scraps and one pretty violent beat down, but no blood is shed. Robot violence - major. Robots are crushed, bashed, smashed and beheaded throughout. Parents leery of violence, no matter the subject should take this into accord.
BOTTOM LINE: There's a longstanding cultural ideal that Americans love underdogs. It doesn't matter if its a has-been boxer/truant father on the road to redemption, a displaced kid trying to connect with his father, or a scrapped robot that has more mettle than his steel exterior can show. The problem with Real Steel is you get all three jockeying for your attention at once. Director Shawn Levy and writers John Gatins and Dan Gilroy make it clear this is a film about the redeeming bond between a father and his son, but the overall robot-boxing arc tying it all together - which is far more interesting, struggle for the limelight. The impressive CGI and brutal metal-crunching fights keep you hungry for more carnage, but the high energy bouts and a few extraneous characters are stingily used to bridge the bond between the father son duo. Bailey (Evangeline Lily) plays Charlie's love interest and conscious, but her presence is rather forgettable in the film. Rural carny robot promoter Ricky (Kevin Durand) sets up as a protagonist early on and gets lost in the shuffle until a rather devicive conflict throws him back into the plot. Its these numerous missteps that have adults itching for the next fight, but kids won't mind the distracting points as long as they know robots are going to be kicking butt within the next few minutes.
Even with a sappy family-oriented plot, a phoned-in performance from Jackman, and a couple of unnecessary story stalls that could have been easily omitted, Real Steel has at its tech savvy core a unique underdog sport story that draws you in and has you cheering for the underdog. Adults, enjoy the slamfest the fight scenes offer and let your kids enjoy the ride as young Max goes from zero to hero with his pet robot.