Real Steel both surprised me and annoyed me. It surprised me because for the first half of the film, maybe even three-quarters, I was genuinely impressed and really enjoyed it. It disappointed me because it suddenly seemed to become a ultra-kids film for the last half an hour and seemingly undid all the positives that had gone before.
I say it surprised me because I watched it thinking it was going to be a light, Hugh Jackman vehicle, with him “phoning it in” and getting to act alongside cool, huge robots, with CGI doing most of the heavy lifting. While there are elements of that, I actually found the film to be a lot deeper than I expected. Not “Schindler’s List” deep but a little more than the one-dimensional film I was expecting.
Hugh Jackman gets to be a character that doesn’t have to sneer at the camera for two hours and manages to balance “bad Dad” with “reluctant hero” quite well. It’s not like he is having to do too much heavy lifting but he doesn’t seem to be cruising along with his performance either.
The real star, as is usually the case with these films, is the boy playing Jackman’s son. Dakota Goyo gets to be cute and witty in equal measure and he never really becomes the irritating, unreasonable child that usually appears in a film aimed to impress kids. Some of the coolest moments have Goyo at the center, the junkyard and the first Robot battle being particular highlights.
In fact, when I say the star is Dakota Goyo, I actually mean human star because the main attraction of Real Steel is the cool Robot battles. I know they are in a different league but it felt like Bay’s Transformers could have learnt something. It wasn’t a quick paced, blur of a battle but a cool, well realised, realistic boxing match between the underdog and the other boxing-bots.
Which brings me quite neatly to the problem with the movie. For the first half we are treated to a decent story about a boy and his estranged father bonding over a robot which shouldn’t succeed. The best parts of the film are the boxing and the battle in The Zoo, when we get to see Jackman’s robot in all his glory, is a very cool scene. What I then wanted was the robot to work his way up to the inevitable, “title fight” at the end of the film.
They don’t give us that though. Instead we get a brief montage and what I can only describe as a “kids film” ending. The reason for the final battle has no reason or logic behind it and just seems to happen. The story that could have been told seems to get skipped over quickly for the obvious conclusion.
I have nothing against that kind of ending and wouldn’t have complained about the predictable outcome if we’d been treated to something more of a story, not just a quick cut to the final match.
The actual finale of the film is done very well and even though you can see the “twist” coming a mile-off, it still works because of the very light tone of the film. It just began to feel more and more like I was watching a kids film the closer to the end we got and it didn’t need that.
Overall, Real Steel is well worth a watch. The robot boxing is great, the story is very well told and Hugh Jackman has great chemistry with his “son.” uUnfortunately, the film is tainted by some “child-friendly” plot decisions which cheapen the film slightly considering the work that has already gone into the story so far.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)