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‘Real Steel’ a surprising hit



Article Published: Oct. 13, 2011 | Modified: Oct. 18, 2011
‘Real Steel’ a surprising hit

Hugh Jackman stars in ‘Real Steel.’



The first step is convincing yourself to watch a movie about boxing robots.

The second step comes easier: Enjoy it.

Combining stellar special effects and effective storytelling, “Real Steel” is one of those fall releases that take audiences by surprise.

Comparisons may abound, but this is no “Transformers.” Director Shawn Levy (“Date Night”) has made a surprisingly human film that just so happens to involve robots. Unlike Michael Bay’s (“Transformers”) tedious techno trilogy, “Real Steel” has heart – and an exciting story and solid performances and characters not played by Shia LaBeouf.

Come to think of it, “Real Steel” seems like something befitting Sylvester Stallone in the ’80s, and not in a bad way. One part “Rocky,” another part “Over the Top,” it’s an underdog story about a father and his estranged son, minus Carl Weathers and arm-wrestling.

Based on the short story by prolific sci-fi writer Richard Matheson, which also appeared in a memorable episode of “The Twilight Zone,” starring a youngish Lee Marvin, “Real Steel” centers on boxer turned coach Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman, “The Prestige”).

But there’s a twist. Set in the not-too-distant future, boxing no longer involves humans, but rather remote-controlled robots, which sounds absurd.

Levy, however, presents these battles royale with the enthusiasm and flair of an actual boxing match, making it hard not to get caught up in the excitement. The film deftly blends impressive animatronics with seemingly minimal computer-generated imagery, creating a tangibility no longer found in most modern features. These tangible, animatronic robots lend a sense of viewer investment, as there actually seems to be something at stake here.

It’s a feeling the down-on-his-luck Kenton shares, but repeatedly squanders through a series of bad decisions that lands him neck-deep in debt.

To make matters more interesting, Charlie gains temporary custody of his estranged 11-year-old son, Max (Dakota Goyo, “Thor”). Neither seems particularly happy with the situation, until Max, a devoted fan of robot boxing, learns what Charlie does for a living.

After acquiring an outdated robot called “Atom,” the two work to train their fighter for an actual shot at the big leagues. Naturally, they learn about each other in the process, eventually striking a bond that neither expected.

It’s fairly predictable, but Levy and company deliver a film that’s more engrossing than it has any right to be. The fight scenes are electrifying, more than just a couple robots slugging it out. Unlike “Transformers,” there are characters behind these metallic monstrosities, and viewers can’t help feeling invested in our protagonists’ fighter.

And, apart from its star, “Real Steel” succeeds without many big names to its casting credits. Jackman’s solid as ever, and Goyo’s better than your average child actor, while Evangeline Lilly (“The Hurt Locker”) rounds out the cast as Charlie’s love interest.

At 127 minutes, “Real Steel” runs a little long for a film of its sort, but once the metallic punches start flying, it’s a rock ’em, sock ’em good time.

“Real Steel,” rated PG-13 for some violence, intense action and brief language, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, see page 11 or visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.


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