Hugh Jackman is Charlie Kenton; an ex-boxer down on his luck. He’s also a dead-beat dad, who ran out on his partner leaving her to raise their only child. Well, joke’s on him… She’s dead now and the law wants him to look after his kid, Max (Dakota Goyo). So, he does what any right-minded person does, he sells Max to his deceased partner’s sister. Joke’s on him again… He’s going to have to look after Max for three months, whilst the sister-in-law, in an act of serious fucked-uppity, goes to Tuscany…
This sounding like a family-orientated picture to you yet? No? Did I mention Jackman trains robots?! That’s right. Robots! Big, burly, 8-foot robots that beat ten shades of shit out of each other. However, because of his desire to constantly prove himself, Charlie finds himself going through them on a daily basis; putting them forward for matches they have no chance of winning. Whilst rooting for parts in a dump, Max and Charlie comes across a G2 model called Atom. Soon, with the help of a boy’s love (and a lot of technological know-how; love will only get you so far), Atom starts making his way into the big leagues.
The plot is a no-brainer. I wrote myself a list of cliches I expected to surface and was happy to be able to tick every single one of them off. Montage – CHECK. Slow-mo punching – CHECK. Father learning a valuable life lesson through his son – CHECK! However, a sub-plot involving Atom’s potential for sentient thinking goes nowhere, and I struggled to work out why so much emphasis was put on it.
Whilst Jackman is always dependable, the sole star of this piece is, unfortunately, Goyo. A child star since year dot, he is an insufferable mess of raised eyebrows and shit-eating grins mistaken for impish charm. They’re our heroes, so who are they up against? Well, there’s also no real antagonist. The one we’re eventually provided, in the form of prize robot fighter Zeus, is only made out to be a baddy by Goyo calling them out and yelling at them like a girl in the third act. Up until then it was just a robot that was a better fighter than anyone else. We’re hardly talking Ivan Drago. However, come Goyo’s little hissy fit, Zeus and his trainers become the worse thing since the Holocaust and the movie asks us to willing boo and hiss in the right places during the final climatic. The fact Zeus’s trainers are the only foreign characters in the whole film makes the whole affair feel a bit jingoistic.
All in all, this should be a contender for this year’s Razzies. However, it’s so gosh-darn charming it’s hard to be mad at it for too long. The SFX are solid and, backed by a soundtrack including such child-friendly fare as Eminem and Limp Bizkit, the fights are pretty thrilling. There’s no fear of Real Steel causing any ripples at the Oscars, but as a Sunday afternoon film to keep the kiddies quiet, it’s probably the real deal.
And yes, I’m ending my review with that pun.