‘Real Steel’: The Reviews Are In!

Hugh Jackman flick's 'well-staged' fighting sequences and father-son spats leave critics 'pleasantly surprised.'

Moviegoers have proven their affection for gigantic robots smashing the ever-loving sparkplugs out of each other in the heat of war — thanks for that, Michael Bay! — but machines beating each other into a tarry pulp purely for sport in the middle of a heartfelt family drama? That’s something the Autobots and Decepticons have yet to cover.

But it seems that “Real Steel,” from “Night at the Museum” director Shawn Levy and “Wolverine” leading man Hugh Jackman, is more than meets the eye. Those who originally targeted Levy’s first foray into the action arena as nothing more than a big-screen Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots have seemingly been proven wrong, with critics praising “Real Steel” for its strong performances, moving story and, yes, the primal pleasure derived from watching two cybernetic gladiators tear each other to bits.

Read on for a veritable scrap heap of “Real Steel” reviews:

The Story
“Taking place in a not-too-distant future that’s neither utopian nor dystopian, but kind of semi-topian, ‘Real Steel’ follows Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman), a former boxer who participates in the sport of robot fighting. (According to the ‘Steel’ timeline, human boxers will get out of the game soon because they can’t hit hard enough to make audiences happy — so enjoy those humans pounding on each other while you still can.) In a world where there’s no more human boxing, Charlie is a charmer/degenerate/bum lugging around a scrappy bot who fights at state fairs. He’s not at the level of ‘league fights’ — you know, the World Robot Boxing League, which is known, because it must be, as ‘the show.’ ” — Linda Holmes, NPR

The Man and his Boy
“As Charlie, Jackman is mostly surface gloss — he knows how to work a greasy tee and a bad attitude, glaring and growling at everyone. He softens slightly with [Evangeline] Lilly’s Bailey (so nice to see her bruised, buff beauty back since ‘Lost’ wrapped). But it is with [Dakota] Goyo that Jackman warms up. Their father-son spats, truly some of the film’s best sparring, is what gives it heart. Not ‘Rocky’ heart, or ‘Raging Bull’ heart, mind you, but ‘Real’ enough.” — Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times

The ‘Bot Bouts
“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 with other robots, 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. … Lovers of blood sport action (or perhaps crankcase oil in this case) are going to enjoy the well-staged fighting sequences, which are tension-filled and exciting and will have many writhing in their seats.” — Bruce DeMara, Toronto Star

The Mechanic Message
“As much as ‘Real Steel’ is an escapist pop confection, it forces you to consider the evolving relationship between humans and machines at a time when robots are replacing people in the workplace and in war. The movie doesn’t question our ever-deepening love affair with technology and foolish trust in it. As increasing numbers of people are kept mobile through spare parts, whether flesh, plastic or metal, we are ourselves becoming more droidlike every year. Behind it all is a collective fantasy of invulnerability, omnipotence and eternal life. ‘Real Steel’ at least acknowledges that machines require maintenance to be superhuman.” — Stephen Holden, New York Times

The Verdict
” ‘Real Steel’ is a real movie. It has characters, it matters who they are, it makes sense of its action, it has a compelling plot. This is the sort of movie, I suspect, young viewers went to the ‘Transformers’ movies looking for. Readers have told me they loved and identified with their Transformers toys as children. [The robot] Atom must come close to representing their fantasies. Sometimes you go into a movie with low expectations and are pleasantly surprised.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Check out everything we’ve got on “Real Steel.”

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