BUSAN, South Korea — Now that the Busan International Film Festival has come to a close, the major multiplexes have settled back into the habit of importing the Hollywood “junk food” that the Korean film market tends to favor. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as BIFF is almost always loaded down with the drama-heavy, art-house celluloid that can sometimes take an emotional toll. Needless to say, switching gears to the lighter, Hollywood fluff can sometimes be a welcome change after BIFF.
‘Real Steel’ is a cross-breed of ‘Rocky’ and ‘Transformers’, directed by Hollywood hack Shawn Levy (‘Night at the Museum’, ‘The Pink Panther’), with Hollywood heavyweights Steven Spielberg & Robert Zemeckis attached as producers. Though it may not be a difficult feat to accomplish, ‘Real Steel’ manages to be Shawn Levy’s best and most entertaining film to date, while also rising above and beyond any of Michael Bay’s ‘Transformers’ films.
Hugh Jackman is energetic and always fun to watch as he plays Charlie Kenton, a retired professional boxer who now makes his way around the robot boxing circuit. In the year 2020, remote controlled robots have replaced humans in the boxing ring, making it the ideal spectators sport and giving gambling junkies the ultimate betting platform. Charlie has fallen on hard times, as a result of a string of losses which sees his robot fighters ending up in the junk pile.
Charlie’s estranged son, Max (played by Dakota Goyo), is in the midst of custody proceedings and is temporarily placed in Charlie’s care. The two set out to resolve some of Charlie’s outstanding debts by taking a newly acquired Japanese robot into the ring. After yet another failure, Charlie is forced to pick up the pieces, finding it difficult to reconnect with his son in the process.
‘Real Steel’ is the very definition of Hollywood formula; a big, loud, fun movie that will no doubt appeal to both kids and adults. It’s often cheesy and over-the-top, but it also feels earnest and always carries the narrative along at a brisk, clean pace. The straightforward plot is a welcome change from the convoluted mess that is the ‘Transformers’ franchise. The visual effects are staggering, and Shawn Levy corrects the mistakes of Michael Bay’s first two attempts at shooting robot action; he let’s the camera absorb the hits in a methodical and discernible fashion. It’s also NOT in 3D, which makes it even easier to enjoy the seamless visual effects.
The robot boxing sequences are awesome, but it’s the fact that Levy always maintains a connection with the human characters that really helps give the action that much needed punch. There is always a clear focus on Charlie and Max, giving the robot commands at ringside, while the robots are duking it out. Jackman’s performance really helps to sell the energy of these scenes; he clearly had a great time playing this role.
My minor gripes with the film involve, naturally, the kid! A bad child actor can be the kiss of death for a movie, but thankfully Dakota Goyo isn’t bad, quite the opposite in fact. If anything, Max is a little too adept at conversation, always delivering strong, witty, dialogue which doesn’t quite fit for a kid his age. The cheesiness owes itself to Goyo overplaying the role, and I understand Max is supposed to be his father’s son, but it was a little bit off. It’s not a deal-breaker, but the little smart-ass can get annoying from time to time. There’s also the obvious attempts at milking some tears from the audience at the end, adding that final, thick layer of cheese (our keyword for this review) for good measure. Again, none of this detracts from the sheer amount of fun I had while watching this film.
‘Real Steel’ makes up for everything that was wrong with the ‘Transformers’ films. It never forgets what it is, never takes itself too seriously, and doesn’t go out of its way to offend or insult one’s intelligence. Hugh Jackman’s charismatic effort would be worth the price of admission alone, but coupled with thrilling action, and a narrative that just about anyone could get behind, ‘Real Steel’ is a real piece of entertainment filled with pure win.