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. 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. He directed Date Night, Cheaper by the Dozen and Just Married. But he's also the guy that made the Night at the Museum movies which were shockingly funny and awesome! So does a higher budget and bigger FX make Levy a better director? 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. Seeing their names in the opening credits gave me hope that this wouldn't be rusty crap and I was right. The film is brightly colored and slickly put together. It's also edgy enough that it won't lose older teens but innocent enough that tweens will dig it too. The CGI FX are top notch and although they may not be as plentiful and bloated as Transformers, it's the subtlety that makes them seem so much more impressive. I also appreciate that not all the robots in the film are the work of Hollywood computers. 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. Not only does he have the energetic smart-ass down cold, but taps into his inner daddy issues convincingly well too. Oh yeah, this isn't just a popcorn-chomping action movie; there's a chance you may shed a tear or two. 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. The script, which was penned by John Gatins (Coach Carter, Hardballs), was highway robbery. You may feel yourself enjoying Real Steel to the fullest but get a vague sense that you've seen this before. That's because you have. It was called Rocky and it won Best Picture in 1976. I know you're thinking that it's easy to compare every boxing movie to Rocky. That's not what I'm talking about. Real Steel is SO MUCH like Rocky that I'm shocked it's legal. 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. And that's not all. The champion that he has to fight is a big, black, strong robot named Zeus. 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. Same story just switching the character's name from Roman to Greek. 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? 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. If you have seen Rocky, you'll still feel that way but you will have trouble getting past the blatant ripoff. That's why I have to give this film two grades. One, overlooking the copyright infringement, which many people (sadly) won't care about; and Two, taking that into consideration. Either way it's a fun, entertaining movie...because you've probably already seen it.
Real Steel (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: B+ and D+
Though Zeus and Apollo were both worshipped by the Romans, both are Greek. And the fact the film has a similar setup to Rocky doesn't mean much; almost all works use the same format and borrow elements from others.