For those of you raised on WWF and WWE, Real Steel could be a guaranteed return on your multiplex ticket. It's a good-looking film, with stunning visuals and slick production values. In that sense, it matches the star power of Hugh Jackman, banking considerably on his presence (and those of the robots) and presenting him as a down-on-luck boxer who turns the table by preparing an obsolete robot for the big fight.
The concept of Real Steel is not ground-breaking by any standards since we have seen the underdog narrative against the backdrop of sports before. Director Shawn Levy seems to be aware of that and uses an entertaining approach to drive us through a thrilling action ride. He sets his story at a time when the game of boxing is changing with robots replacing men. "But the crowd never changes," you are reminded. Dripping in debt, Charlie (Jackman) will do anything for money.
The least he would expect in such financially difficult times is his estranged son (Dakota Goyo as Max) whose custody is thrust upon him. However,
Max turns out to be a blessing in disguise. He helps his dad fix a semi-functional robot and train him to take on the mightier robots equipped with superior technology. This is Charlie's chance to realise his dreams of being a prize-fighter.
Along the way, Levy establishes the father-son bonding with cliché situations which does little in enhancing the film's appeal. Clearly, the idea behind this father-son twist, a la The Pursuit of Happyness is to give it some personal touch in a subject as impersonal as this. Real Steel assimilates its influence from films ranging from Rocky to The Champ and Transformers.
Some of this movie's most exciting scenes are shot on the robots with the imaginative power of a video-game animator. Goyo, as the precocious kid who pushes his dad to go for it ("You can do it"), injects a spirited energy into his performance. It seems Jackman wants to be a Stallone here; nevertheless, he's a sturdy presence throughout.
Real Steel is the kind of film that gets its form right but the content horribly wrong. It's designed as a crowd-friendly project with a big, commercial hero, spectacular action sequences and robotic gimmicks and works to that end.