Monday, October 24, 2011

Real Steel (2011) movie review

Overall verdict: 9/10

The Good: Solid emotional core, great cast chemistry, top notch special effects, a touching pro-family story, gripping fight scenes, excellent acting, endearing main characters, energy of the fights draw you in, rousing soundtrack, clever themes of satire.

The Bad: a little too "fairy tale"-ish, suspension of disbelief required, underdog story may seem unoriginal.

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"Real Steel". The title itself calls to mind loud, frenetic, bot-on-bot battles the likes of Michael Bay's "Transformers". Promotional material and trailers featuring quick cuts, bad ass one liners and humanoid machines beating the nuts out of each other only heightened that expectation for a souless, action heavy, gear grinding testosterone charged movie.

Take a look here

Surprisingly, Real Steel has real heart. It is less like Transformers and more like Rocky or Karate Kid. Simply put, it is an emotional tale about a down and out loser reconnecting with his estranged son over their passion for "robot boxing". You see, in the future, "Bot bouts" have replaced traditional fighting sports like boxing as a way to up the excitement factor. Robots can, after all, take a bigger pounding, and dish out more damage than any human can. Sadly for poor ex-boxer Charlie Kenton that means he's out of the job. Without a purpose He desperately tries to get into the Robot fights circles to relive his glory days but his bot is trashed, leaving him in debt and with shattered dreams. Charlie's stubborn dedication to a lost cause is broken when he is given custody of a son name Max whom he never knew he fathered. Things go from bad to worse but through a stroke of luck, Max discovers an old training Robot in a junk yard. Christening the robot "Atom" Max convinces his dad to retry for the robot fights.

This is where the movie throws its first surprise left hook: the robot fights are only secondary to the human story. The terrific chemistry of the cast, especially between Charlie (Hugh Jackman) and his son Max (Dakota Goyo), is full of old school charm. Jackman's Charlie is superbly developed; he starts off as a self centered and stubborn man who learns responsibility, patience and the value of family. In a way, he represents the common workaholic who aims too high and has lost sight of the little joys in life. Newcomer Dakota Goyo plays Max as the perfect foil to Charlie's thick headed immaturity; an endearing kid, full of spunk and energy which rubs off on his dad and gives him a new purpose to keep fighting for. They are a lovable pair, slowly opening up to one another.

But fear not fanboys, it is not all drama. There are the promised robot fights. And when they come, they come like glorious uppercut in slow motion. Shawn Levy's directing style is clear and even, yet energetic with none of the whiplash cuts and shaky cam; a welcome surprise seeing as how this is Levy's first time directing a sci/fi movie. Perhaps the most astounding aspect of the film is its special effects. The robots are a combination of computer generated images (CGI) and physical animatronics which give them a heightened sense of realism in both their look and the way they move. Furthermore, the fights were overseen by former boxing hall-of-famer "Sugar Ray" Leonard.

Real Steel is the tried and true underdog story set against a science fiction backdrop. Sure, it might seem unoriginal, but the writers weave in some clever themes to set it apart. Under the mechanical mayhem lies a clever jab at the commercialisation of modern sports. How the big money holders will constantly try to squash "the little guy" from reaching their dreams. It also advocates the old saying about how it is not the destination that matters but the journey. And lastly, it advocates a pro-family theme about how good old fashioned joy of sports bring people together.

This is a true family movie for everyone. Accompanied by Danny Elfman's rousing soundtrack, the atmosphere is so contagious, you just cannot help but cheer our lovable protagonists on. Action is exciting and the fights are intense with the outcome never clear. For fans of japanese anime, Real Steel incorporates some familiar stereotypes such as the immature adult/mature kid pairing and the designs of some of the robots. Plus, the whole gimmick of shouting out attacks for the robot to perform will remind any kid of something like Pokemon. Yes it is slightly unreal, it is wish fulfilment at its very best. What child would not want his very own fighting robot?

Like its protagonists' and their robot "Atom", Real Steel is "the little guy" when stacked against the year's big hitters like Transformers 3, Harry Potter 8 and Pirates of the Caribbean 4. It only has a fraction of their budget and no franchise power to flaunt. Yet Real Steel comes through with incredible action sequences that are only secondary to what matters most: characters who are easy to relate to, a heartfelt emotional narrative and compelling themes.

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Go For it: if you want to see a robot science fiction film that has heartfelt emotional drama or if you liked underdog sports stories like Rocky, Karate Kid, Mighty Ducks etc.
Avoid it: if you really dont believe a word of this review

Entertainment: A
Story: A-
Acting: A
Characters: A
Music: A-
Replay value: A
"Brains": B+

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