Monday, 6 February 2012

Review: Real Steel

Real Steel (2011)

on 4 October 1963, the CBS television network transmitted an episode of The Twilight Zone called "Steel".   Based on a story by Richard Matheson and starring Lee Marvin, it concerns a down and out boxing manager in the year 1974 when the sport has been outlawed and only human-looking robots are allowed in the ring.  Desperate for a fight for his robot, Marvin gets a gig in a hick Midwestern town, but the robot breaks down at the last minute, forcing Marvin to make a potentially fatal choice.

It's the sort of gritty morality tale that Rod Serling's anthology series was famous for; a story about a man who is slowly being ground away by a changing world and in the end is literally forced to fight for his manhood.  It's a episode marked by believable, grown-up performances that sell that absurd premise and a "New York" writing style that works beautifully.

Fast forward to 2011 and Hugh Jackman stars in a pointless remake of that classic now called Real Steel.  This time, our hero is a jerk with the maturity of an eight-year old who keeps making wild all-or-nothing bets that end up with his giant Transformer-like robots getting needlessly destroyed.  Naturally, he is lumbered with his 11-year old son whom he hasn't seen in ten years.  Said son has the maturity of a 35-year old and is an expert robotics engineer that allows him to drag an old robot out of a scrap heap, repair it, modify it and set it up as a fighting machine capable of beating all comers.  This the kid then uses to make wild all-or-nothing bets that in his case are sensible gambles because he wins.

The kid is also unbelievingly annoying.  So, does this become a gritty tale of Jackman recovering his dignity and self-respect?  No.  It becomes Rocky meets Rock 'em, Sock 'em Robots as the kid's robot becomes a media darling and within weeks is facing off with the undefeated world champion, which it defeats as father and son bond.

Meanwhile, I sit in stunned amazement at how far Hollywood has abased itself in its unending quest for sequels, remakes and exploiting every brand under the sun.  It's one thing to remake something and do it better, it's another thing to do it in the name of CGI crap that jettisons the source material entirely.  The effects are overloaded and unconvincing, the plot is as predictable as a train timetable, Jackman's character has nowhere to go, the female lead is completely wasted and the kid is something of such abysmal annoyance that I haven't seen the like outside of old Japanese sci fi.

Do yourself a favour, skip this and find the original on DVD or on line.  It's much shorter and orders of magnitude better.

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