Real Steel

Real Steel

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Imagine you're pitching a movie. We'll make it about fighting. It'll star Hugh Jackman, and he'll get his shirt off a bit, but - get this - he won't actually be involved in any major fight scenes (with the exception of a beating where all he has to do is fall over). All of the glory but none of the risk. It's a studio's dream. Add a cute kid, a story that sticks safely to formula all the way through, some skimpily dressed women, oh, and giant robots. Did I mention the giant robots?

If you looked forward to the Transformers movies only to be let down by a shortage of giant robots punching each other's lights out, Real Steel is for you. With far superior special effects and flawless cinematography (which sadly, due to the genre, is likely to go unnoticed), it really delivers on the robot action in a near future setting where the tournaments make perfect sense. It's aimed squarely at 12-year-olds but there's enough action to satisfy older fans. Though it's essentially a sentimental coming of age tale about a boy and his robot, its creators seem to have understood that one thing kids really appreciate is intense metal-on-metal violence.

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For non robot fans, sadly, it has rather less to offer. The story is slight (Jackman's commitment-phobe drifter finds himself temporarily responsible for the kid he abandoned years before, and bonding ensues). The script is often clumsy. But for what it is, it's well done. Young Dakota Goyo strikes just the right balance between charm and frustration, eagerness and vulnerability to appeal to viewers young and old, no mean feat for an inexperienced actor working opposite cast members he can't always see.

It's his movie, and Jackman wisely tunes down his own performance to accommodate. Evangeline Lilly brings character to the token female role, with a backstory involving a much loved dead father which accords nicely with the film's exploration of masculine values. Then there's the central robot star, Atom, who for many young viewers will be what the film is all about. Drawing more on The Iron Giant than Optimus Prime, he may perhaps be a little too sweet for some tastes, but he can certainly deliver in the ring.

A feelgood film about family, friendship and growing up, Real Steel was always going to attract cynicism but it really does a fine job of delivering for a young audience. It's well crafted and balances its two storylines well, building up to a predictable but still satisfying climax. A great choice for parents looking to give their kids a half term treat.

Reviewed on: 11 Oct 2011
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A hustler in the robot-fighting business, down on his luck, finds himself responsible for the son he walked out on years before.
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Director: Shawn Levy

Writer: John Gatins, Dan Gilroy

Starring: Dakota Goyo, Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, Hope Davis, Olga Fonda, Anthony Mackie, Kevin Durand

Year: 2011

Runtime: 127 minutes

Country: US, India

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