Sometimes you go into a movie knowing that it’s going to be bad, and it still manages to shock and surprise you with just how god-awful and unwatchable it actually is. Real Steel is one of these movies. Now, there’s an extent to which that’s actually a somewhat nice experience. I know that sounds a bit odd, but stay with me.
The best-case scenario with a movie is that it constantly surprises you with just how good it is. On the flip side of that, there are movies so terrible that you find yourself constantly in awe of just how low the filmmakers can sink. In a conventional sense, there’s really nothing to enjoy about Real Steel. But, if you get any enjoyment out of laughing at embarrassingly misconceived movies, this is a must see. The folks at the Razzie awards are going to be thrilled when this sucker hits screens.
Perhaps the saddest thing about Real Steel is that it was based on a decent episode of The Twilight Zone written by the great Richard Matheson (Duel, the novel I Am Legend). That episode starred Lee Marvin as a former boxer who now hustles on the robot boxing circuit for cash. Desperate, he puts his life on the line to box against a robot in disguise to pay off some debts. It’s actually a fairly creepy and intriguing story. Sadly, the only elements that the makers of Real Steel stick to are the existence of a robot fighting league and the fact that the main character used to be a boxer. None of the creepiness or intelligence of the original concept remains. Instead it’s been turned into a nauseating kiddie picture.
Hugh Jackman stars as a down-on-his-luck robot boxer reduced to traveling around to fairs to pit his robot against bulls (yep, that’s real). He also finds out that he has a son, and after the boy’s mother dies, Jackman is forced to take custody for a summer before passing the kid off to his aunt. The boy has attitude, sass, and a love of robot boxing that he shares with his father. They fight at first, but oh boy, I’ll bet they’ll learn to be friends. After Jackman’s expensive robot gets smashed to pieces on the underground robot boxing circuit (I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence), it seems like the summer robot fighting tour is over. But then the kid finds a beat up old robot in a junkyard. He finds out it has one-to-one motion controls, so the kid trains the robot to dance and Jackman teaches it to fight. Do you think this might lead to some sort of underdog sports story? Well, not only are you right, but you can probably predict every scene in the film after about 15 minutes (hint: they just might have to fight that evil robot boxing champion that everyone is yapping about).
That story might sound stupid and it certainly is, but reading the plot just can’t compare to the incredible assault of idiocy you experience while watching Real Steel. It’s a film designed by a marketing department purely to appeal to the most demographics possible. Fighting robots to attract males? Check. A kid actor to bring in the young crowd? Check. An attractive movie star in a pointless love story to bring in the ladies? Check. Props that could be turned into action figures? Check. A tie-in deal that has characters distractingly drinking Dr. Pepper whenever possible? Check, and on and on and on. The final result is almost embarrassing to watch as every scene feels jammed in to serve a commercial purpose rather than serve the story. For some reason there’s a suggestion that the kid’s robot might have a conscience, but it’s never paid off or explained. It’s just there to make the movie feel more like E.T. or The Iron Giant because some executive pointed out that kids like those movies at a script meeting. Jackman’s love interest is one of the most bland characters I’ve ever seen in a movie. With no real motivation, interests, or personality, she’s there simply to encourage or nag Jackman’s character and irritatingly says his name in almost every sentence because she’s got nothing else to say. This movie isn’t just screenwriting by numbers, it’s screenwriting by committee, and the result is more of a corporate product than anything resembling an actual movie.
It’s hard to make a movie with giant robots kicking the crap out of each other boring, but that’s exactly what Night Of The Museum director Shawn Levy and his team of screenwriters managed to do. Hugh Jackman tries to charm his way through the role, but with nothing even remotely resembling a character to play, he just can’t pull it off. Jackman must have been paid a fortune to make up for the crushing sense of shame and embarrassment he have felt while memorizing his lines every day. I wish I could say something nice about Real Steel, but it truly is an absolute disaster of a movie. The only saving grace is that the film is so misconceived and clichéd that it’s filled with unintentional laughs for bad movie loving audiences. If you want to laugh at some trash, see Real Steel. Otherwise just wait a few days and everyone will have forgotten that it even existed.