Monday, October 10, 2011

Review: Real Steel

...Oh don't look at me like that. I wanted to see Ides of March but the theater I went to wasn't showing it, so it was either this or see if Seth Rogen could pull a Jonah Hill and not piss me off when paired with a better actor. So I went to see this instead.

So the premise is, it's the near future and human boxing has been replaced with robot boxing. Hugh Jackman is a guy who trains and controls robots to box, but he really, really, sucks at it. Early in the movie, his ex-girlfriend dies and leaves him with an 11 year old kid, that he takes on the road essentially to extort money from some wealthy relatives who want to adopt him. The kid proves to be a big fan of robot boxing and finds a broken down sparring bot in a junkpile, that he's convinced can be a winner with some repairs and some of Hugh Jackman's moves.

So it's a movie about a down and out boxer who isn't polished or well known, but can take a lot of punishment and has a lot of heart, getting one big shot at the title. And if that plot outline sounds familiar to you, you're not the only one. I could be here all day listing titles, so let's just go with Rocky. And while the plot is mostly formula and predictable, with few surprises, what is surprising, is the movie isn't bad. On the contrary, it's actually pretty good.

Not great now, I don't want to oversell it. In terms of 2011 non-art action films, it's nowhere near X-Men: First Class and can't even compete with Hanna, but given that I, and everyone else it seems, was really ready to hate this film, the fact that I can honestly say I enjoy it is more than a little surprising.

A lot of this has to go with the cast and the technical aspects. Hugh Jackman really kills as the lead, helped by the fact that his character isn't merely superficially neglectful or down on his luck, but actually a real asshole when the story starts, giving him a worthwhile character arc. Dakota Goyo manages to bring enough skill to his role that what is usually the most annoying aspect of films like these (IE, the precocious kid) isn't quite as bad.

On a technical aspect, the film clearly borrows heavily from the boxing movies it's reverse engineered from. The fights are cleanly shot and well edited and usually quite engaging. The techniques used to create the robots are impressive and the robots themselves are quite imposing and, most importantly, easily visually distinguishable from each other, even in a close fight, which is VERY important for a film like this. (*insert gratuitous slam of the Transformers films here*) Director Shawn Levy has mostly worked with comedies up until now, every one of which has made me want to hunt him down and kill him (or maybe just tell him they're terrible) but he really steps up to the plate here, directing action with a casual ease.

Most of the problems come in at the script level. The dialogue runs from workable to ludicrously unsubtle. As I said, the story is predictable and doesn't seem to borrow too much from the Richard Matheson short it's supposedly based on. There's a couple character turns towards the end that are a little too big to swallow easily (you'll know them when you see them) and while Evangeline Lilly does a solid job as...well 'the girl', the script doesn't seem to give her much to do, other than fill in backstory on Jackman's character and be the love interest.

Look, I went into this expecting to hate it, so the mere fact that my review is positive is a mark of quality. A lot of the quality can be chalked up to people on board actually caring that the movie turn out good, and while there are things out that I'd recommend first and it won't be anywhere near my 'best of the year' list, if you're inclined to go see it, for the popcorn chewing fun or because you have a kid you think might be into it, yeah it's not without merit. So give it a look if you want.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he's not tired of calling this movie “Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots: The Movie” just yet.

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