Real Steel: A Solid One-Two Punch of a Film

15 10 2011

A movie about Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots? Not quite. While this is NOT a movie based on the grandfather of all button-mashing games, Real Steel is, indeed, a movie about robots beating the bolts out of each other. And it’s pretty darn fun. Here’s the breakdown:

The year is 2020 and human boxing is a thing of the past. Robot boxing is all the rage; robots can take more hits, move faster, create a more entertaining experience for spectators. Enter Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman), an ex-boxer himself who has adapted to the robot boxing craze. But when Charlie is reunited with his estranged son (Dakota Goyo), he must make some tough choices between money, fame and family.

The Monkey: The overall feel of Real Steel is very “Americana.” Its futuristic setting is not distracting and the state fairs, rural locations and even urban arena scenes still feel very real and accessible. At its core, Real Steel is about a father-son relationship and the fight to make dreams reality. Sound a bit cliche? Maybe, but Real Steel offers enough exciting visuals and compelling performances to make it all worth while. Speaking of exciting visuals and compelling performances…

The robot boxing scenes are spectacular. One can see why human boxing diminishes in the future; robot boxing is brutal and intense, an entertaining experience well beyond anything a human fighter could deliver. From crushed metal to leaking hydraulic fluid, squealing pistons to sparking wires, Real Steel might even have better robot fights than the Transformer movies…at the very least, much grittier. The filmmakers do an excellent job of showing the full breadth of the sport, from seedy underground rings to mega-stadium showdowns, lending a much appreciated level of credence to the story.

But it’s not all gleaming robots and spring-loaded punches. Real Steel is held together by a surprisingly emotional father-and-son story arc. Hugh Jackman plays the apathetic (and rather cold) Charlie well, keeping the audience at a distance without making the character unlikable. Despite his heartless behavior at the beginning of the film, you still want to see him succeed and move beyond his selfishness. Real Steel even dips into the very real problem of gambling and addiction, a shockingly mature theme for a movie touting robot fun for the whole family. While it is a surprising theme to include, it’s refreshing, made even more so by the absolutely stunning performance by relative unknown, Dakota Goyo.

This kid rocked it. And while Real Steel will probably never see an Oscar nomination, Goyo deserves one. Child actors are hit-or-miss, but Goyo makes his adult co-stars look like amateurs. Not only does he carry much of the comic relief in the film, he’s also responsible for much of the emotional drama. That’s a lot to expect from a young actor, but Goyo pulls it off not only well, but effortlessly. You almost forget he’s acting at all, he’s so completely comfortable and natural in his role as Max Kenton.

The film’s finale is pretty much what you’d expect from a sports-themed movie, but despite its predictable nature, it’s a pleasure to watch. The emotions are real, the action is intense; there’s nothing here not to like.

The Weasel: There are several unanswered questions. What happened to Max’s mom? What really was the connection between Max’s mom and Charlie? Much of the film is spent talking about how wonderful she was, but with little to go on, most of this seems like filler dialogue, not contributing to the overall emotional thread of the story.

And I’m unsure of what to say about the robot characters…if you can even call them characters. Atom is the main robot boxer, an outdated sparring robot that comes out of nowhere as the underdog competitor. Yet he’s controlled via remote and a “shadow” program. So is he somehow sentient? Several moments in the film hint at this. But if that’s the case, the violence of the boxing matches becomes uncomfortable. If this is a character that somehow has feelings and emotions, seeing these robots pummeled to scrap is rather unsettling. But if they aren’t emotional characters, it’s hard to really have an emotional stake in their fight, aside from their human controllers. I think this is an aspect of the film that could have really been examined more closely, and could have elevated the philosophical tone of the story. Humans were replaced by robots, but are the robot fights any more “humane”? If the human characters in the movie were forced to ask some of these tough questions, it would have added a wonderful amount of depth to the already solid story…alas, it was relatively glossed over.

A creative take on the sports drama, Real Steel is a fun action movie, a special-effects feast and a surprisingly emotional father-son story. Definitely wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel to this one.

4.5 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Did you enjoy the robot fights? How’d you think Dakota Goyo did in his role? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief: All Thunder and No Zap

16 02 2010

Based on the popular kids’ book series by Rick Riordin, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, follows in the footsteps of countless Harry Potter-esque films before it. And with Chris Columbus (who directed two Harry Potter features) at the helm, Percy Jackson might have some franchise potential. Here’s the breakdown:

Percy Jackson lives a normal life with his mom and obnoxious step-dad. Unbeknownst to him, someone has stolen the Greek god Zeus’ lightning bolt – the world’s most powerful weapon. Percy discovers he’s not only the chief suspect, but that he is a demi-god, the son of Poseidon. Thus, Percy is thrust into a world of mythical creatures, gods and heroic demi-gods in an effort to clear his name and save his family.

The Monkey: Aside from the three teenage leads, the cast is comprised of notable actors and actresses: Sean Bean as Zeus, Kevin McKidd as Poseidon, Catherine Keener as Sally Jackson, Pierce Brosnan as Chiron, Rosario Dawson as Persephone, Steve Coogan as Hades, Joe Pantoliano as Gabe, and Uma Thurman as Medusa. Whew. It was fun to see these big name actors take a back seat in a fun kids’ movie; they all seemed to be having fun (especially Pierce Brosnan and Uma Thurman) and their presence gave the film some weight.

The film’s greatest strength was its humor (due in large part to Brandon T. Jackson who played best friend, Grover). The jokes were well-timed and kept the movie from taking itself too seriously.

Logan Lerman (Percy) played the role of angsty-teenager-who-finds-out-he’s-special quite well. If the series doesn’t continue with The Sea of Monsters, Lerman definitely has a career in movies. And with rumors that he might be the next Spider-Man in the recently announced reboot, his time may come sooner rather than later.

The visuals were entertaining and the climactic fight sequence was well-shot and action-packed.

The Weasel: As far as book-to-screen adaptations go, Percy Jackson made an awkward transition. The “quest” plot structure played out more like a video game than a book or a movie. Characters travel from one place to another, collecting items and defeating creatures and overcoming obstacles along the way. In fact, many of the transitions are so abrupt, audiences wonder if the characters even realize what is going on. At one point in the film, Percy’s mother is kidnapped by a Minatour; the very next scene he’s galvanting around Half-Blood Camp playing a medieval version of capture the flag. It was a weird transition, one that probably worked better in the book.

While the visuals were entertaining, the CGI was sub-par.

Of all the Harry Potter hopefuls (The Spiderwick Chronicles, The Golden Compass, The Seeker, etc.), Percy Jackson & The Olympians has the best shot at a successful franchise. But with Logan Lerman being tied up with Spider-Man (possibly) and a relatively weak opening movie, it’s questionable whether or not fans will ever see a sequel. The movie wraps up nicely, leaving no indication that a sequel is planned.

A fun movie, but one that might quickly be forgotten.

3 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Are you a fan of the books? Should there be a sequel? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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