Rock’em, sock’em robots provide nuts & bolts of futuristic father-son drama
Starring Hugh Jackman & Evangeline Lilly. Directed by Shawn Levy
127 min., PG-13
It’ll be difficult for anyone of a certain age to watch Disney’s “Real Steel” and not think of a popular kids game from the 1960s.
Rock’em Sock’em Robots, anyone?
In the movie’s not-so-distant future, the sport of boxing is obsolete. Wrestling? Too tame. What really gets the fans pumped, however, is the spectacle of two mechanical men hammering each other into scrap metal.
Unlike the pint-size, plasticized punching toys of yesteryear, these bots are beasts, 8-foot-tall slabs of remote-controlled, hi-tech hurt. Hugh Jackman plays Charlie Kenton, a washed-up boxer now trying to eek out a living on the grungy fringes of the robot fighting circuit with his android.
Things take an unexpected--and initially unwelcome--turn for Charlie with the reappearance of his long-ago-abandoned son, Max (12-year-old Dakota Goyo), and their discovery of a broken, half-buried robot in the muddy muck of a junkyard.
The new bot, Atom, may be smaller than some of the metal monsters against which he’s pitted, but he he comes into the ring with a secret weapon: old-school boxing moves drilled into his data bank by Charlie.
Evangeline Lily (Kate from TV’s “Lost”) plays the owner of a gym where no one comes to box anymore, which gives her character plenty of time to help Charlie with robot repair--and fend off his advances when he tries to rekindle their old flame.
The bots in “Real Steel” are high-tech, special-effect marvels, each with distinctive personalities, colorfully customized features and unique fighting styles. Boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard help choreograph the classic jabs, uppercuts, hooks, slips, bobs and blocks in Atom’s steel-fisted arsenal.
Even though they’re mute, theoretically emotionless, metallic gladiators, it’s difficult not see the battling bots as somewhat human, especially when they’re “injured,” dented and crushed, de-limbed, or even decapitated...and blood-like fluid slowly pools onto the mat.
But the real meat of this story is in the father-son relationship between Charlie and Max, for which the movie relies heavily on time-tested, heart-tugging Disney signature themes juiced with a familiar twist of kid-spunkiness that might reflect Steven Spielberg’s participation as one of the project’s 12 producers. (A sugary subplot about Max teaching Atom to hip-hop dance, however, is cuteness overkill.)
Older kids will enjoy the rousing, rock’em, sock’em action and the humor; parents will relate to the story’s human foundation, cheer for Atom’s “Rocky”-like ascension up through the robot-fighting ranks, and perhaps even get a little misty over the sentimental nuts and bolts that hold everything together. “Real Steel” isn’t a new Disney classic, but it does have an undeniable heavy-metal charm.