Mainstream

- the cinematic musings of a self-certified geek

 

Real Steel - Dir. Shawn Levy, USA, 127mins, 2011

Black Swan

Copyright MainstreamMatt/Mainstream 2005-2011

 

Set in a future world in which Sylvester Stallone and Mike Tyson are footnotes in history books, boxing has now become the playground of huge, clunking, mechanical robots which are controlled by their wealthy owners, with millions of dollars at stake during each of these robot wars.

 

Down on his luck former pro, Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) has just had his prized metal Mickey irreparably destroyed whilst also staking more money than he had on the outcome. To compound his worsening situation he is also granted custody of his 11 year old son, Max (Dakota Goyo), a sprog he has little or no connection with.

 

So with Steven Spielberg on board as exec-producer it’s obvious that father and son must repair their relationship, as well as a junkyard robot named Atom, that could be the solution to their financial and familial problems.

 

Director Shawn Levy has always had one foot firmly rooted in the family flick genre. His Night At the Museum movies share a very similar DNA to this; big budget special effects and a fractured father/son relationship. The problem with those soulless efforts is that they substituted genuine charm for CGI splurge which resulted in an uneven mess. Here the focus is restrained with the story streamlined and simple, meaning the end result is much better for it.

 

Having Jackman as top-billing is a knockout move too; the guy oozes charm and for too long he’s skirted being elevated to true A-List status. This won’t do that, it’s pretty much cruise control for the artist formerly known as Wolverine, but it’s an infinitely likeable turn as the cocksure trainer that’s played with just the right amount of bravado.  

 

Kids, who this is ostensibly for, will lap up the fight sequences, mainly because they are effectively non-violent in their metallic brutality, and the special effects are of a standard which means that the robots are clearly distinguishable from one another during the metal-on-metal WWE style smackdowns. The bout sequences are also much more successful than most recent “adult” sports movies – The Fighter, Warrior – in that they actually have some emotional resonance and genuinely exciting momentum to them, even the grand finale has a welcome unexpected turn of events.

 

Hardly groundbreaking, but in a world in which robots have been given a bad name by the likes of Bi-Centennial Man, Short Circuit 2, and the latter Transformers instalments, this is a real lightweight winner.