Real Steel is the Real Deal

Watched Real Steel this weekend.  Great little movie about boxing robots.

That’s right.  I wrote little, even though I’m sure this was an expensive film.  I don’t refer to its budget when I call it little, I refer instead to the scope of its story.  At its heart, Real Steel is the story of a man looking for redemption, a son bonding with a father, and, lest we forget, giant boxing robots.

This is the film’s real strength.  It’s a bit of a cliche to say a sports movie has heart, but Real Steel does indeed.  It knows exactly what it’s about, and it understands that this is exactly enough for the film.  Too many movies today seem to believe that the more plot going on, the better the film.  As if a simple story told well isn’t enough of a challenge.  What makes Real Steel work is that it has enough faith in its characters and their story to allow that to be the focus of the film.  Giant robot fights don’t hurt anything either.

This is, at the end, a sports film, and like most underdog sports films, it’s meant to be inspiring.  And in nearly all ways, the film follows the traditional formula.  There’s a down-on-his luck protagonist, an intimidating champion, a road to glory, and a final showdown.  Along the way, our protagonist learns to be a better person, gains confidence, and proves he has what it takes to be a winner.  It’s almost all by the numbers, and there’s nothing wrong with that when it’s done well.

I’ve mentioned before how cliches are not bad in writing, and that EVERY story is filled with cliches.  It’s only when the story is poorly executed that we notice.

The twist to this film is the robots themselves.  And they are awesome.  Every bout is fun, thrilling.  And though the robots themselves are all merely remote-controlled automatons, they still manage to have a lot of personality.  It’s a neat trick, and one worth applauding.  The machines in this movie often have more personality than most flesh-and-blood characters in other films.

What I love though is that the film sidesteps so many other cliches.  The champion’s human operators are not portrayed as dishonest or cheating.  Merely ruthless and manipulative.  In the final bought, they don’t try anything underhanded.  They don’t kidnap the kid.  They don’t steal the control mechanism.  The stakes of this fight are not about life or death.  It’s about relationships, second chances, and, dare I say it again, heart and soul.  And, really, that’s more than enough.

Probably the most fun I’ve had at the movies in a long time, and a terrific movie all the way around.

Plus, did I mention awesome robot boxing?

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,


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  1. Gappy McBoring
    Posted October 12, 2011 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    When I think of robots, I think of algorithms. I think of cold, hard discrete mathematics: matrices and logic and combinatorial responses. Don’t get me wrong. I grew up with the Transformers and Batteries Not Included and Flight of the Navigator too. I have a heart. I’m not some sort of inhuman calculator.

    But it just occurred to me, based on your love robots and your story Automatic Detective, you probably don’t think in those terms.

  2. Austin the Ninja
    Posted October 29, 2011 at 2:11 am | Permalink

    I saw Real Steel and loved it. You are definitely right about the cliches but they really set the movie up well enough that no matter how many cliches happened it probably wouldnt have changed my opinion any. From what i was reading if it does well enough they are considering doing a sequel but i dont know how good the chances are of that actually happening.

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