DisneyThere's something to be said for lowering your standards in favor of a good time. Real Steel, the new CGI-robot slugfest starring Hugh Jackman, is everything the modern intelligent film-goer should stand against: clichés piled on clichés, gratuitous product placement, prefabricated characters, tired pop culture references (Look at the robots do "The Robot"!), and plot lines that steal liberally from the nearly exhausted canon of the down-on-his-luck-ex-fighter. But if viewers can temporarily forget about the existence of Rocky, The Champ, Terminator 2, The Wrestler, or Over the Top, they may find themselves cracking a smile, and even getting a little choked up, at a heart-warming father-son-robot bonding tale.
The film could have swapped robot boxing for a soapbox derby and the essentials would remain intactJackman plays Charlie Kenton, a former heavyweight forced to into retirement by the rise of robot boxing, a new-age craze where remote-controlled, 2,000-pound steel gladiators hammer one another to bits in the ring for the pleasure of the hooting masses. Charlie has no choice but to accept this new reality and, like an astronaut resigned to coaching NASCAR, spends his days glumly traversing middle-America in his mobile workshop, making scratch on exhibition robot fights at county fairs. Charlie is content to wake up every day underneath a pile of empty (and carefully displayed) Budweisers until a lawyer shows up and drops his estranged 11-year-old son, Max (Dakota Goyo), on his doorstep. Max's mother has passed away, leaving him in Charlie's hands.
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Real Steel succeeds where so many CGI battle flicks fail by putting some emotional weight behind the blows, so much so that despite the predictable pacing of the final underdog-vs.-undefeated-champion bout, there still exists the breathless tension that's the hallmark of all good fighting flicks. If robots do someday rise up and squash humanity, we'd be lucky to have these guys as our new overlords. At least they have some heart.
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