Real Steel * * *

Genre: Action/Drama

Director: Shawn Levy

Writer: John Gatins, suggested by the short story “Steel” by Richard Matheson

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lilly, Anthony Mackie, Kevin Durand, Hope Davis, James Rebhorn

Running Length: 127 minutes

Synopsis: A gritty, white-knuckle, action ride set in the near-future where the sport of boxing has gone high-tech, Real Steel stars Hugh Jackman as Charlie Kenton, a washed-up fighter who lost his chance at a title when 2000-pound, 8-foot-tall steel robots took over the ring. Now nothing but a small-time promoter, Charlie earns just enough money piecing together low-end bots from scrap metal to get from one underground boxing venue to the next. When Charlie hits rock bottom, he reluctantly teams up with his estranged son Max (Dakota Goyo) to build and train a championship contender. As the stakes in the brutal, no-holds-barred arena are raised, Charlie and Max, against all odds, get one last shot at a comeback.

Review: It’s not often said for a two-plus hour movie, but there’s so much going on in Real Steel that the running time actually feels too short to accommodate everything. This isn’t exactly a compliment, since it points to the film being slightly overstuffed, but the good news is that Real Steel is a pretty decent attempt at merging the father-and-son movie together with the David-vs-Goliath sports movie despite its flaws.

Much like how a romantic comedy works, the sports movie needs to have the audience rallying behind the protagonists, and this Real Steel manages to do well. The robot bouts are high energy and quite exciting to watch, especially because the robots are given very distinct visual identities and are extremely convincing works of CGI, which coupled with the good action choreography, presents quite a spectacle.

Although the conclusion is pretty foregone from the beginning, it does help that most audiences will be quite vested in Atom’s fate. The human actors are all pretty decent, with the best developed interactions being between father and son (of course), and only Evangeline Lilly being shafted by being an almost one-dimensional love interest to Hugh Jackman.

However, one of the biggest issues of Real Steel is how heavily the film ladles on the sentiment. The omnipresent score by Danny Elfman rises and ebbs, providing an extremely blatant indicator to how audiences should be feeling at any one point. The finale is replete with schmaltzy scenes of tears rolling slowly down cheeks and almost every other cliché in the playbook, and the very heavy-handed manipulation may turn off the more jaded cinemagoers in the theatre.

Having said that, most of Real Steel is very watchable, and the final bout between Atom and Zeus is about as exciting as any other well-directed boxing flick, even with it being constructed wholly with CGI. And despite the 127-minute running time, very little of the film feels draggy or superfluous. If you can get past the cheesiness of it all, Real Steel will present a solid two hours of entertainment.

Rating: * * * (out of four stars)

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