Real Steel

Hugh Jackman stars in this robo bust-up
A solid piece of family fun, this robot rumble has enough adrenaline and hi-jinks to please youngsters, and enough emotional punch to carry adults through. But prepare to be assaulted with some of the most hilariously obvious product placement imaginable too.

The hype…
It looks like a Disney movie based on the old Rock'em Sock'em Robots toys in which a couple of plastic robots punch each other until one's head falls off. Still, with Michael Bay leaving the 'Transformers' franchise behind him for good there might be room for a new steel-crunching story in town.

The story…
In the not-too-distant future, boxing has been consigned to the history books and only mechanised competitors get into the ring. In this world, washed-up former boxer Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is struggling to get by. He's just been humiliated by an erstwhile rival and, worse still, lost his robot. Things can't get any worse.

But when news comes that an ex-girlfriend has passed away and her young son Max (Dakota Goyo) needs someone to look after him Charlie smells an opportunity: in the form of Max's rich aunt who wants custody of Max herself.

Of course, things never go quite as planned and Charlie ends up lumbered with Max for the summer. It seems like another problem in a sea of bad luck, but Max might just be able to inspire his newfound father to bigger and better things; and possibly even save his relationship with sexy workshop boss Bailey (Evangeline Lilly) to boot.

The breakdown…

The whole 'bad dad learns something new from estranged kid' shtick isn't exactly new. It's a tried-and-tested formula that has served many classic well down the line, and fortunately the writers of 'Real Steel' know this.

Charlie is made gruff enough to be a dislikeable pain in the backside, but also given enough 'loveable rogue' to keep us hoping for the change. It's a role Jackman is perfect for, after all, who could ever believe he'd be the bad guy? And is there a better precedent for the dark character capable of doing great things than Wolverine? We think not.

Son Max is equally well balanced. Sure he does silly dances to amuse us, and probably spouts archetypal teen jargon once too often, but his energy and enthusiasm is infectious, and it's difficult not to be caught up in the exuberance of newcomer Dakota Goyo.

Though perhaps we should get to the nuts and bolts of the film, or, more accurately, the robots.

It is a stone cold fact that every child in the world wants to be friends with a robot, and film has a grand history of delivering this fantasy. But where some have gone straight for wise-cracking automatons ready-made for comedy, 'Real Steel' does something altogether braver: it makes its robot protagonist (Atom) a mirror for the emotions of the human characters.

There are some fantastic moments when Max gazes at the robot he fought so hard to bring to life, and clearly wills him to greater things. But we are never shown whether it truly affects it. It's painfully poignant, but more importantly, it works.

Atom has enough character as the outdated underdog for us to be rooting for him as a third protagonist, but is still primarily there to show us what's inside the human leads. He's also a plucky fighter, and it makes for some awesome battles.

There's none of the showy set-pieces favoured by the grandstanding Michael Bay, but the bots pack a punch, and the fight scenes bristle with a combination of top notch effects and sports movie-grade intensity. It's gripping stuff.

But we can't sign off without one word of warning. There is an epic amount of product placement in this film. Whether it's because of an unnecessarily pessimistic view that meant producers wanted cash back before the box office readies came in, or just because they could, we're bombarded with images of all sorts of products. Now we think about it, we're kind of thirsty...

The verdict…
Old school family fun is the name of the game in this action-packed, robot-battling brawler of a film. It doesn't skimp on the steel smashing, or on the corny clichés, and although it's not the most original film on the market it is one heck of an experience.

Rating: 3.5/5


'Real Steel' is due to be released in the UK on 14 October. Certificate: 12A