Real Steel 2011 ★★★½

Set in the year 2020, and based on a short story (titled 'steel') by Richard Matheson, Real Steel stars Hugh Jackman as Charlie, a former boxer who controls robots in robot boxing after human boxing has died out. A down and out loser who owes money to several loan sharks, his luck is further compounded after his last robot is destroyed in a rodeo match against a bull, putting him further into debt by $20,000. Charlie then learns that an old girlfriend has died, leaving him the sole parent of his 11 year old son Max (played by Dakota Goyo). Max's aunt wants to adopt him, and unbeknown to her Charlie, wanting nothing to do with the kid, brokers a deal with her husband for $100,000 to hand over custody rights after they come back from an extended summer vacation.

Charlie breaks into a junkyard, with Max in tow, looking for scrap parts to build a new robot. When Max falls down a ledge, Charlie frantically races to rescue him, finding him caught on a robot arm buried in the dirt. Max discovers that the arm is attached to a whole robot, which he decides against Charlie's advise, to bring the robot back to Bailey's gym, where he goads Charlie into getting a fight for the robot, which he discovers from markings on it's frame is called Atom. Charlie grudgingly agrees to take the robot to an underground fighting venue called 'The Zoo' where to his surprise, Atom defeats a powerful robot and earns them $2000 in a bet against their opponent's owner, leading Charlie to rethink his decision, and both Charlie and Max take Atom on successful tour, leading to Atom's biggest challenge, a high profile fight with the World Robot Boxing League Champion, an undefeated powerhouse called Zeus.

I really have to admit that I enjoyed Real Steel a heck of a lot more than I expected to. Despite the obvious comparisons to movies the likes of Raging Bull and Rocky, the movie it most reminded me of was Over The Top, the movie with Sylvester Stallone where he's an arm wrestling champion and is forced to go on the road with his estranged son. That aspect of the story is perhaps referenced the most here, but mixed with a healthy dose of robot action, only unlike this year's earlier Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, here the robot on robot CGI violence is extremely exciting and thoroughly satisfying rather than boring as it was in that movie, resulting in an atmosphere that's very infectious and finds you almost yourself wanting to shout out as if you were ringside.

Hugh Jackman gives a decent performance as a down and out loser who when we first meet him could easily win the award for worst father in the world, Dakota Goyo gives a good performance as Max that, while it's not 'Haley Joel in Sixth Sense' good, is solid throughout, though missing some development which seems to be down to writing rather than performance (see below). Evangeline Lilly is underused in the movie, though having her in it more would have really interefered with the father/son dynamic, which would have really weakened the movie.

One of the really impressive aspects of the movie is the robot CGI animations, they are in a word, flawless. Better than those of Transformers and as already mentioned, a hundred times more enjoyable to watch. Done with motion capturing, these are truly some of the most impressive special effects works i've ever seen - almost to the level of 'you don't know if it's real or not' - they're that good, especially in the scenes with human/robot interactions, and I hope that the effects house responsible get their dues with at least a nomination come oscar time.

There are a few aspects of the movie that could have been expanded upon, there's plenty of room for further character developments, which really feel like missed oppertunities - while there's no firm indication of how much time has passed since Max's mother's death, or any real sign of it impacting him that much, and some scenes which have an almost Spielberg-ian quality to them revolving around his emotional connection to Atom and possible hints at wether there may be more than meets the eye (no, that's not intended as a Transformers pun) to Atom, could have been greatly elaborated on, is Atom sentient or is he just a sparring robot? That was an aspect of the movie I would have loved to see played out more, but the movie manages to get by without it - had more been made about the question of a living machine, this could have really raised the movie into the exceptional category.

As it is, the movie is thoroughly enjoyable, and the performances solid enough that the movie has heart, it's one of the few movies released this year that both parents and children should enjoy together, if I had kids I would be taking them to see this, a drama with a sci-fi edge that delivers. Definately worth a look.

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