Real Steel

Shawn Levy makes an admirable transition from comedy to mainstream-drama, thanks mainly to leading man Hugh Jackman's convincing performance.

Shawn Levy, director of Real Steel, makes an admirable transition from comedy to mainstream-drama. I say mainstream-drama because, even though the movie is set in the near future, it isn’t really much of a Sci-Fi. This future world features fighting robots, but the focus of the movie is on a father-son relationship. Despite the familiarity of many of the scenes, Levy makes it work mainly due to the charismatic lead actor that Hugh Jackman is and the novelty of the backdrop that the story is set against.

Adapted from Richard Matheson’s short story Steel, the movie follows Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman), a reckless man who seldom gives much thought to his instinctive decisions. Once a promising boxer when human fights were still legal, he now lives out of a trailer, trying to make a living out of robot-boxing. When saddled with his long estranged son (Dakota Goyo) for a summer, father and son team up to put together a robot, Atom, which the 11-year old reckons can take them to the championship.

Although Shawn Levy is more known for his inane comedies (Pink Panther and Night at the Museum among others), he proved himself more competent with 2010’s Date Night. With Real Steel, he breaks further away from his comfort zone and enhances his resume. As a staple offering of the genre, Real Steel suffers from a simplified plot and contrived scenes that are clearly meant to please the crowds. Even so, the movie has heart. It is easy to root for the underdog Atom, though its wins come across as too convenient if given some thought. The robot-boxing sequences though are a spectacle. These robots are mercifully realized as burly and heavy metal machines, not light-weight acrobatic marvels; this makes the fights exciting. When Atom steps into the ring for the final fight, it has dents (bruises?) on its body.

Real Steel, though, also suffers from being predictable and mediocre in many parts. Shawn Levy limits his motive. He does not try to be too ambitious, instead settling for being safe. He sets the movie away from big cities, evoking a decidedly small-town appeal. Yet, even with the robots, his movie’s biggest draw is its leading man, Hugh Jackman. His Kenton grows from careless to caring, and Jackman makes him believable and identifiable – when cocky or vulnerable. Despite not setting any new precedents or being too memorable, Real Steel proves to be a good time at the cinema. Without slowing down too often for the dramatic parts, the movie engages for most of its 127 minute run-time. While it may be an enjoyable yet forgettable movie, Real Steel hints at better work from Shawn Levy in the near future.

Rating: ★★★½☆

About Shariq Madani

Shariq is a social, talkative, fun-loving guy who enjoys books, food and a long drive. But his real joy is in the comfortable darkness of a cinema, watching a good movie, and later spending hours discussing it.