If you were to tell me that the generations-old children's game Rock 'Em Sock 'M Robots would be turned into a movie one day and that that movie would actually be fun to watch, I wouldn't believe you. Â But here we are in 2011 and Hugh Jackman has teamed up with director Shawn Levy to create a fun, family movie about giant robots that beat on each other till they piss oil and it's very effective as entertainment...but there might be a sinister reason why.
Shawn Levy is the director behind some truly awful films that make lots of money. Â He directed Date Night, Cheaper by the Dozen and Just Married. Â But he's also the guy that made the Night at the Museum movies which were shockingly funny and awesome! Â So does a higher budget and bigger FX make Levy a better director? Â Apparently so.
It probably didn't hurt that he has two coaches in his corner named Steven Speilberg and Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Back to the Future series) as two out of the WHOPPING 12 Producers on Real Steel. Â Seeing their names in the opening credits gave me hope that this wouldn't be rusty crap and I was right. Â The film is brightly colored and slickly put together. Â It's also edgy enough that it won't lose older teens but innocent enough that tweens will dig it too. Â The CGI FX are top notch and although they may not be as plentiful and bloated as Transformers, it's the subtlety Â that makes them seem so much more impressive. Â I also appreciate that not all the robots in the film are the work of Hollywood computers. Â Yes, they went old school in some scenes and actually used giant puppets.
One of the other biggest surprises of the film was in its childhood lead, the 12-year-old Dakota Goyo (Thor), who blew me away with his performance. Â Not only does he have the energetic smart-ass down cold, but taps into his inner daddy issues convincingly well too. Â Oh yeah, this isn't just a popcorn-chomping action movie; there's a chance you may shed a tear or two. Â It depends on whether or not you buy into Jackman's completely unlikable lowlife father character deserving any of your sympathy by the end.
But not so fast...
There's one thing about Real Steel that needs to be said and that's because it might be downright illegal. Â The script, which was penned by John Gatins (Coach Carter, Hardballs), was highway robbery. Â You may feel yourself enjoying Real Steel to the fullest but get a vague sense that you've seen this before. Â That's because you have. Â It was called Rocky and it won Best Picture in 1976. Â I know you're thinking that it's easy to compare every boxing movie to Rocky. Â That's not what I'm talking about. Â Real Steel is SO MUCH like Rocky that I'm shocked it's legal. Â Aside from the family drama, Real Steel is about a small, junkie robot that no one believes in getting a shot at the title because of a publicity stunt. Â And that's not all. Â The champion that he has to fight is a big, black, strong robot named Zeus. Â In case you forgot, in Rocky the small, junkie boxer gets a shot at the title against a big, black, strong champion named...wait for it...Apollo. Â Same story just switching the character's name from Roman to Greek. Â I won't spoil the ending for you, but let's just say that that's not where the stealing...er....I mean similarities run out.
So what am I trying to say? Â How about this - if you've never seen Rocky, you may think that Real Steel is a great, emotional, well-made family boxing movie that will win your heart. Â If you have seen Rocky, you'll still feel that way but you will have trouble getting past the blatant ripoff. Â That's why I have to give this film two grades. Â One, overlooking the copyright infringement, which many people (sadly) won't care about; and Two, taking that into consideration. Â Either way it's a fun, entertaining movie...because you've probably already seen it.
Real Steel Â (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: B+ and D+
If you haven't seen this movie by the time it came out in theaters to the public, you weren't paying attention for a free advanced screening. Â The studio putting out this family drama that deals with Mixed Martial Arts fighting, played it so often for so many people that they came across desperate and needy. Â They needed it to have a huge fan base before it even came out because MMA fighting is so niche that unless there was a buzz about it, only those fans would see it. Â It built up that buzz but I'm not sure why.
The trailer for this film gives away 95% of the movie so if you didn't see it, you're ahead of the game. Â A colossal advertising mistake on the part of the studio. Â Another mistake in the advertising for Warrior was promoting that director Gavin O'Connor was the same guy responsible for Miracle, the 2004 movie about one of the most exciting sporting events ever (the US Olympic Hockey team beating the Russians) that was done with the quality of a made-for-TV movie; a true disastrous cinematic misstep. Â It now appears that O'Connor has another misstep under his belt.
He tried so hard to go gritty with Warrior. Â It's dimly lit, it's filled with seedy locations and about a sport that's still a little taboo in the mainstream of America. Â However it does it in a PG-13 filter which might be the biggest mistake made. Â These characters are deeply troubled, angry and come from backgrounds that would lend a filthy vocabulary to realism. Â Not only is that void from the film but so is BLOOD! Â Seriously?! Â You have one of the most violent sports on the planet and you don't show any blood?! Â How are we suppose to feel the gravity of each epic battle these guys fight in the octagon if, at the end of it, they barely have a bruise? Â That's one of the aspects of what made Rocky so good; a film which this will get unfairly compared to this a lot. Â Don't believe the hype...it's FAR from Rocky. Â But at the end of Rocky we can see the abuse his body and face took. Â Christ, we even see Rocky's eyelid get sliced open in an attempt to keep the fight going! Â Make it realistic or don't make it at all.
The silver lining for Warrior is the acting. Â It stars Tom Hardy (Dark Knight Rises, Inception), Joel Edgerton (Star Wars prequels, Animal Kingdom) and Nick Nolte (Tropic Thunder, Cape Fear). Â Nolte gives us one of his best performances as their heavily damaged father fighting for his redemption in his sons' eyes. Â His performance is heart-breaking and tragic and exactly what Oscar nominations are made of. Â He would totally deserve the statue as of right now. Â Hardy and Edgerton give great performances too. Â Hardy has all the silent, steely resolve of a young Marlon Brando. Â Sadly the script doesn't give either a decent shot at having a moment that shows it off.
Sure there is an impressive level of attention that was paid to the sport and getting techniques just right. Â I appreciate that. Â The moves are real and the MMA cameos are plentiful. Â But that only impresses me so much. Â At the end of the day, you still need to tell a story that is told in a compelling way. Â Warrior doesn't really do that. Â The last 20 minutes of the movie is epic and exciting. Â It builds to a climax that makes it hard to maintain a dry eye or avoided goosebumps. Â But the first two hours (yes this movie is almost two-and-a-half hours long) is slow, choppy and plodding. Â I give credit to those that make it to the end; they're the real warriors...because they fought to stay awake.
Warrior Â (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: B-