Real Steel
Based in part on a short story by science fiction visionary Richard Matheson (I Am Legend), Real Steel is set in 2020, where human boxing has been outlawed and replaced by dueling state-of-the-art robots. Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) was a one-time contender who saw his hopes disappear when the robots took over and now hustles his way through life as a small-time promoter. Up to his eyeballs in debt, Charlie’s world takes a turn when his estranged 11-year-old son Max (Dakota Goyo) lands in his lap. Opinionated, precocious and arguably more sharp-witted than his old man, it is not long before Max has convinced Charlie to help him train Atom, an old sparring bot for one last shot at the big-time.

Executive produced by Steven Spielberg and featuring a narrative comprising largely of oversized mechanoids pummeling ten bells out of each other, Real Steel is likely to draw easy comparisons with Michael Bay’s Transformers trilogy, and reactions to the film may well depend on how you rate those box office behemoths of brainless entertainment. Spielberg anchors the film with his perennial favourite – the strong family drama – and it goes a long way to making Real Steel an engaging and interesting movie. We are still dealing with broad strokes: Charlie only cares about money, but must now be responsible for raising his son in a dangerous world of his own creation, but even this is a huge step up from Shia LeBoeuf screaming after his latest supermodel girlfriend.

Director Shawn Levy may have a long but depressing resume of making unsuccessful comedies like The Pink Panther and Cheaper by the Dozen, but to his credit he also helmed both Night in the Museum flicks, which while little more than filmed variety acts for their ensemble casts, prove he is adept at handling large scale special effects that must interact with his actors. The effects work throughout Real Steel is top drawer and seamless, making it impossible to tell whether you are watching animatronics or motion captured CGI, and to his credit, Levy is even able to conjure emotion and sympathy for our robot hero Atom, both in and out of the ring.

What may surprise some viewers is how family-friendly Real Steel is. This is definitely a film to take the kids to, particularly if you have young boys. The fights are big, loud and exciting, without being too scary, while Jackman and Goyo both bring a lot of heart, humour and genuine charisma to their roles, which will help older viewers see past the innate stupidity of the film’s central premise. REAL STEEL is unlikely to linger long in the memory or make it onto any end-of-year awards lists (except possibly for its effects), but the truth is that Real Steel is far more heart-warming, exhilarating and just flat-out fun than it has any right to be and proves the Jackman/Spielberg combo to be a knockout one-two they may wish to repeat in the future.