By: Ben Koch (Four Beers) –
The year is 2020 and a lot has changed. The iPhone is entirely transparent, animal cruelty is fun again, everyone seems to have the knowledge of robotics on par with an MIT graduate, and human boxing is dead while robot boxing has risen to power in its place; and although over eight years has passed, Hugh Jackman hasn’t aged a day. He plays Charlie Kenton, one time boxer and current washout. Charlie is deep into underground robot boxing and he owes all kinds of money to the wrong people. Oh, and Charlie is a dad.
When his ex-girlfriend dies, the custody of his son, Max, is up for grabs and to make some scratch he sells Max to Max’s Mom’s sister. The catch? He has to take care of his own son for the WHOLE SUMMER. His plan is ditch his kid with his hot friend, Bailey while he tours the country participating in underground Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots games robot boxing. Turns out, though, that this kid is stubborn and knows as much about robot boxing as Mattel. So father and son set off on a journey around the country building robots and crushing others.
Get it?! Because he was actually built! Oh, Real Steel, your wit astounds.
One thing that I was really happy that this movie did well was actually develop characters! It seems like such a simple concept but it is one that Hollywood seems intent on squashing. So many movies these days are filled with flat characters whose only goal seems to be to shoot everyone in their vicinity. Honestly, I was expecting that from Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots: the Movie Real Steel, but I was pleasantly surprised to find fleshed out characters that have honest relationships.
Gee, I wonder what could possibly have made me think a movie with giant, fighting CG robots would have little to no character development?
Alright, I’m pretty much only talking about the relationship of Charlie and his kid because Hugh Jackman and that kid has some good chemistry as father and son whereas the love story aspect between Charlie and Bailey felt obvious and awkward. Still, I commend this movie for actually taking the time to develop both of the main characters and make this movie as much about their budding relationship as giant robots destroying each other. Bravo, Real Steel, Bravo.
On the other hand, that story is really overdone. You can easily figure out what is going to happen in the movie every step of the way. Remember how I said that father and son are forced together for the summer? Well, guess what? They bond! Over robot boxing! Who knew? The kid apparently doesn’t care that his father is only spending time with him because the aunt’s husband will pay him $100,000 (without his wife’s knowledge) to look after his own son for the summer while the people who will take full custody of the kid vacation in Italy. Yeah, there is only one person who wants to actually take care of this child and that’s his trophy wife aunt. Who goes toItaly.
At the beginning of the movie, Charlie is a huge dick. The first scene where he uses his fighting robot he is at a county fair in Texas where the robot fights a bull. Yeah, apparently bull-baiting is back. Only, instead of a dog that is much smaller than him, the bull is fighting a giant robot that is made of steel and designed to pummel other things made of steel. Of course, Charlie is an idiot and somehow loses that fight so the bull is largely unharmed but all I could think about was what would happen if the bull lost?
The most tender burgers at the fair for one thing.
Spoilers, I Guess:
Sure, there is an actual relationship between actual characters in the movie but it doesn’t really go anywhere. The whole movie is building up to this final fight between the kid’s robot and the big champ robot and so that’s where it ends. Before the fight, though, aunt and uncle moneybags come back from Italy and begin their custody of the kid, so Charlie has to convince them to let him take Max for one more night for the big fight. So the fight ends, people are happy and the credits roll. I felt robbed. What now? The kid goes back to his aunt and uncle, and Charlie goes back to fighting animals with autobots? Do Charlie and Bailey get together? Were they always together (their relationship was confusing throughout the whole movie)?
“Are you my new mommy?” “No. Your mommy’s dead. And your dad sold you.”
As much as I liked the fact that these relationships were explored and developed, there was no closure to them in almost any way. Towards the end of the movie the kid tells him that all he wanted was for his dad to fight for him. So in the final fight, it comes to a point where Charlie has to control the robot by boxing while the robot mirrors him thanks to his rare “shadow function”. So the movie ends with the kid’s dad literally fighting for him. Okay, but the kid still needs him to figuratively fight for him. Max is still in the custody of the aunt and uncle and there’s nothing telling us that they’ll consent to the father visiting or getting to come over on Christmas or something. Congratulations, kid, your dad can box against air but he has no idea how to wage a custody battle.
The main robot in this movie was pretty much built by the kid. In one night, the kid replaces the robot’s entire control system and rewires a voice command headset so that he can be controlled by voice and programs boxing moves and combinations into his memory. He’s 11. When he first takes control of the robot, he drives him around as easily as if he was an RC car. Keep in mind, he has never even been up close to a fighting robot before. And… he’s 11.
His explanation for being able to control the robot so easily? Video games (which is also his reasoning for why he can speak Japanese). I know I shouldn’t expect much in the way of realism from a movie set more than eight years in the future, and in a world where boxing has become so incredibly dead, it seems not a living soul does it anymore for any reason; but, come on, he’s 11. I’m 23 with a college degree and I can’t even drive a car in GTA IV for a block without hitting something.
Pictured: Every car I drive for more than two minutes in GTA IV
Are you 12? You’ll probably love this movie. The 12-year-old sitting next to me cheered every time a punch was thrown. I could easily see this becoming very popular with young kids so if you are a parent with kids reading this, twelve-year-olds are at that age where they are still dumb enough to really get into this kind of movie (I mean, hey, I liked Star Kid when I was that age). Are you older than twelve and require a movie with a more interesting premise and higher stakes? Then don’t see this movie because it will probably bore you.
This movie should be celebrated for actually having well developed characters but I couldn’t get into the fight scenes hardly at all because I would rather see two bleeding, sweaty men trade punches than the robots. If there are going to be giant CG robots, there should also be higher stakes and have some kind of military affiliation with guns and explosions, not something I could see done better by two high school drop-outs on pay-per-view. Do you want to see a good boxing movie? Watch Rocky or Raging Bull. Do you want to see a good movie about giant robots? Well, you’ll have to settle for the Transformers movies. Do you want a good movie about both of those mixed together? Well then go see Real Steel because this is pretty much it for that genre.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time you think about Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots
Take a Drink: every time the kid talks back to his dad
Drink a Shot: when you see something that you thought would be different by 2020 but isn’t.