Sunday, February 19, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Real Steel (2011) **½

PG-13, 127 min.
Director: Shawn Levy
Writers: John Gatins, Dan Gilroy, Jeremy Leven, Richard Matheson (short story “Steel”)
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lilly, Anthony Mackie, Kevin Durand, Hope Davis, James Rebhorn, Karl Yune, Olga Fonda

I’d heard a lot of good things about “Real Steel”. People called it a good classic sports movie, but with robots. It drew a lot of comparisons to “Rocky”, which make a lot of sense considering the film’s conclusion and subject matter. It’s a good family film, despite a PG-13 rating, which is becoming a nearly meaningless film rating. The PG-13 can be anything from a family friendly superhero flick to a depraved sex comedy that only avoids the ‘R’ rating by not using curse words for what they actually mean.

“Real Steel” is all the things I heard about it, and I can’t see it offending many viewers with its solid portrayal of a deadbeat dad who connects with his kid after the mother dies through their mutual obsession with robot boxing. Oh, it’s important to note that the story takes place in the near future when remote controlled robots have replaced human boxers. The movie isn’t incredibly clear about why this switch occurred. I suspect it has to do with safety issues, as audiences demand more violent contests. It seems the movie misses the boat on making a bold statement about the world of professional sports today and how increasing fanaticism fuels the dangers involved for the contestants.

Instead, it eschews any such statements to give the audience a human drama. This approach is more palatable to audiences, but it also cuts to my problems with the movie. They’re robots in the ring. I don’t care about them when they hit each other. I have no investment in the actual contestants. Yes, it is the people who control those robots that carry the emotional weight of the story, and the filmmakers do a very good job investing the audience in their story. However, when we see a scene where two hulking, CGI-created, metal hunks of junk pound on each other in the ring, my mind immediately leaps to the thought, “So what?” I also have a hard time believing that the sport of boxing could retain fans with such enthusiasm for contests between video gaming geeks operating remote control robots.

To be sure, my boys loved the movie. Enveloped within the video game driven subculture themselves, I suppose they are the proposed future fans of such a sport. The filmmakers do a much better job of creating a human story with actual emotions involved than with a movie like “Transformers”. They do this by not giving the robots too much of their own personalities. But, I just can’t get on board with the enthusiasm most others have had about this film.

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