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Real Steel

Real Steel, 2011

Charlie (Hugh Jackman) is a washed up boxer whose career became obsolete when large robot fighting took center stage. Hustling and barely keeping his head above water, Charlie learns that his former girlfriend has died and his son, Max (Dakota Goyo) needs a guardian. Max's aunt and uncle (Hope Davis and James Rebhorn) want custody, and Charlie extorts money from the uncle in exchange for Max. But when Charlie is put in charge of Max for a few weeks, the two discover a fighting robot named Atom who seems to offer them both a chance at success.

Every time I tried to cozy up to this near-future tale of rock-'em-sock-'em, it pushed me away like a fighting robot, um, pushing away another robot.

The fundamental problem I had with this movie was an utter lack of like or interest for any of the characters, aside from the robot. And this is a problem with the writing. A serious problem with the writing.

I kept wondering, who is this movie for? It's not for little, little kids, because you've got salty language thrown in there. Is this movie for 13 year olds? Maybe? But it definitely wasn't for me. I'll admit that the movie put me on its bad side almost right out of the gate when a child sassily told an adult "boo-yah". Boo-yah? And the writing only gets worse as the film goes. At one point, Max and Charlie are arguing and Max says, "Look, we can go around and around on this all night, but my decision is final." Why is this child being written like he's an exhausted middle manager in his mid-40s?

And the writing, of course, poisons everything. The character development is so thin. So thin. The characters fall into the laziest of tropes. There's a cowboy hat wearing baddie who practically goes "yee-haw!" every time he's on screen. Evangeline Lilly plays a woman who owns a gym that, say it with me, belonged to her father but has now fallen on tough times. She's trying to run a business, but when Charlie looks at her she giggles and minces around like she's in elementary school. Olga Fonda plays the Strong Russian Accent Bad Guy, while Karl Yune plays the Aloof Japanese Bad Guy.

Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo have some fun chemistry as they tentatively build their father-son bond. I think that the acting, especially from Goyo, is not bad at all. But he and everyone else are saddled with weak material. The story itself didn't even make all that much sense to me (Atom gets into the final of a championship just by . . . asking?). I also never felt like the movie figured out what it was doing with Atom. Was he meant to actually be sentient? Yes? No? I was never clear on this point and it made it really hard to know how to feel about the sequences involving him.

There are some fun sequences involving the robot, in particular when Max teaches the robot to dance. The final fight scene is well done, and the special effects are really solid. It was easy to forget that I was watching two computer generated and/or puppeted characters slug it out.

At the same time, I didn't enjoy the way that a lot of the movie was filmed. Things are done in montages, or in slow motion and I didn't understand why. It undercuts the emotion of the last act.

Good effects and good effort in the performances, but overall kind of a misfire for me.