Real Steel is set in a future where robots have replaced humans in boxing. I heard this was set in 2020, but at one point thought I heard someone say it was 2027. Then, there was a scene where they said the second generation of fighting robots were built in 2014 or 2016. This is a bit of a nitpick, but 2014? It seems like we are decades away from this kind of robotic technology, not just a few years away. It would take some kind of huge technological advance in robotics in the next year or two for us to have anything like this. Maybe if they had set this in 2030, I would have had an easier time with that aspect. Again, this is a nitpick and you can just say this is an alternate universe or something.
I was also going to jump on the fact that Real Steel states that the reason robots took over fighting is because crowds demanded a more brutal sport. I would have pointed out that we already have a brutal sport and it's called MMA. They did kind of explain that away in a single line of dialog, but I don't see crowds watching bloodless robots fight as more brutal. It would seem that watching robots fight would have less consequence to me. Sure you see arms and legs get torn off and stuff, but you could still potentially fix the robot or just buy a new one. It would be like watching remote control cars race instead of real people racing. If there's a crash, nobody really cares because there's no human element. Judging by the crowd that turned out at my local Buffalo Wild Wings for the MMA fights last night, I would say that we're a ways off from people demanding something even more brutal or not being into watching humans fight. There's another nitpick there for you.
Hugh Jackman plays "Charlie", a former boxer that never quite made it before the robots took over. Now, Charlie is just a small-time robot fighter, who's having difficulty making a living. Charlie is stubborn, kind of a jerk, makes bad decisions and is pretty bad with money. Charlie has a son, Max, with a former girlfriend, whom he's pretty much never spent any time with. You see that Charlie gave custody to the girlfriend after Max was born. However, the girlfriend has died and Charlie agrees to take Max for the Summer. Initially, they seem to be annoyed with each other, but Charlie's son thinks the fighting robots are cool and they kind of bond over that.
Did I say "Charlie" a lot in the last paragraph? That's to illustrate another nitpick I had about the movie. In once sequence of dialog with Bailey, played by Evangeline Lilly (Lost), she says "Charlie" about 15 times in a conversation that's only about two or three minutes long. I think it was Albert Brooks that pointed out that it's sloppy writing when characters say each other's names over and over. It's not a natural way of speaking. You can talk to someone for an hour and never say their name. Again, it's a nitpick, and not actors fault, but I noticed it to the point to where I started to laugh every time Bailey said "Charlie".
Back to the movie. Max just happens to find a perfectly good sparring robot that's been thrown away, as it's an older model As you see from the trailer, sparring 'bots are built to take a lot of punishment, but never deal any out. Which also makes you wonder, why not just build a robot that can both take a lot of punishment and deal a lot? Anyway, they teach the robot, named Atom, to box and get him some local fights. Atom wins his first few fights and quickly becomes a fan favorite. It all builds to the finale, which you know is coming. There are no twists or surprises here. Real Steel is a pretty standard formula.
I know it sounds like i'm being hard on Real Steel, and I am, but it's not because I didn't like the film. I was actually pleasantly surprised by it. The trailers looked kind of corny to me and I thought I was going to see a lot overacting and silly dialog. I think the trailer was poorly edited, as some of what you see didn't work out of the context of the film.
Based on the trailer, I was expecting Max, played by Dakota Goyo, to be annoying, but I actually thought he wasn't bad. He develops an attachment to Atom, but I'm glad they didn't give Atom a personality and try to make that relationship cute or turn Atom into a puppy. I think the movie wouldn't have worked as much if they had gone there.
The effects were actually pretty good and I think that it was due to the use of both animatronic robots and CG. The fighting scenes were really well done and you don't have a problem following the action. You can actually tell what robots are fighting each other (take note Michael Bay). The final fight against the seemingly unbeatable Zeus (No Holds Barred fans might get a chuckle at that), has a very Rocky-ish feel to it.
Despite being over two hours, Real Steel was paced pretty well. I could have used maybe a little more robot fighting though.
I thought the rest of the performances were fine. Even though Charlie is a bit of a jerk, it's kind of a tough sell, as I just don't think it's possible to not like Hugh Jackman. Even when he plays a jerk, it still has a likable charm to it. Evangeline Lilly's "Bailey" is both the love interest and the spunky gear-head that challenges Charlie. There's a small role played by Anthony Mackie, but it seems like he was underused. There's also a small role by Kevin Durand, as a rival of Charlie's. I thought Durand's casting was interesting, as he was also on Lost and was in X-Men Origins: Wolverine as "Blob".
Real Steel was directed by Shawn Levy, who also directed Date Night, but then also directed borderline unwatchable stuff like The Pink Panther, Cheaper by the Dozen, Just Married and both of the Night at the Museum movies. Even thought I liked Date Night, Real Steel is I think his best effort yet. Outside of the sloppy dialog in parts, I didn't think the writing team was all that bad.
Despite all of my nitpick issues, Real Steel is not all that bad. It's not a great movie by any means, but it's entertaining and it should appeal to a broad audience. I saw many families in the theater and they all seemed to enjoy it. If you're going to see one fighting robot movie this year, Real Steel is a much better choice than Transformers. This is something you could take your son to and he's probably going to love the hell out of it and you'll likely get enough out of it that you won't think it's a complete waste of time. On that level, it's a matinee.