Real Steel is off to a Rocky start

In the near future, we’re told, robots will replace humans in the boxing ring. Hmm. Doesn’t seem that long ago that youngsters were gleefully duking it out with Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots.

Hugh Jackman shows Atom the robot some ring moves. Guess what happens next.

Hugh Jackman shows Atom the robot some ring moves. Guess what happens next.



Real Steel

2 1/2 stars (out of 4)

Rated: PG

In the near future, we’re told, robots will replace humans in the boxing ring.

Hmm. Doesn’t seem that long ago that youngsters were gleefully duking it out with Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots.

Given the popularity of The Transformers movie franchise — which is also based on a popular toy — one does pause to wonder about the source of the film’s inspiration, although it’s purportedly based on the 1956 short story Steel by U.S. sci-fi writer Richard Matheson.

Add to that a report earlier this year that studio DreamWorks already has a sequel on the drawing board and one can only sigh heavily and roll cynical eyes skyward.

Anyway, back in the near future, Charlie Kenton (played by Hugh Jackman) is doing the carnival circuit with a robot that soon gets turned into so much scrap metal.

Charlie finds out his ex has died, leaving him custody of a son he barely knows. Soon Charlie and young Max are on the road for a summer of scrappy father-son bonding with another robot, which also becomes a pile of junk.

But then one dark and stormy night, while rooting around a very large scrap yard, Max finds a discarded robot called Atom and all of a sudden, they’re on the road to potential glory and riches.

As a complete cad more interested in dollars than redemption, Jackman is barely believable, despite the five o’clock shadow, the grubby clothes and the gruff voice.

Fortunately for Jackman, there’s the GTA’s own Dakota Goyo as Max, who saves the movie by out-acting the Aussie hunk at every turn and making the contentious father-son relationship work as well as it does, deserving every bit of the second star billing he gets.

After a steady string of money-making comedies (Night at the Museum I and 2, Date Night), director Shawn Levy easily handles his first big action film.

The pace could have been tightened, considering the film clocks in at more than two hours, and the human storylines tend to clutter the landscape when what the audience really wants is more metal-on-metal mayhem.

The robot, despite its unyielding metallic expression and the glowing blue eyes, is surprisingly endearing, especially when he’s doing the pre-match two-step with Max.

As a “sparring” robot meant only for practice fighting, he’s a long-shot contender in the Rocky mold.

But with ex-boxer Charlie’s moves — transmitted via voice command software — he’s suddenly got a shot at the title against the unbeaten Zeus. And, as in the original Rocky mold . . . well, that would be too much of a spoiler.

Real Steel may not be the most compelling foundation for a sequel, but we’re told that future is inevitable.

Bruce DeMara is a syndicated movie critic for the Toronto Star.

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