Giant robots. There was once a time when I naively thought that Hollywood just couldn't fuck up a concept as awesome as giant robots. Then along came Transformers. Followed by the other Transformers movie. And then that third Transformers movie. By the time I emerged from the theatre, beaten to bloody pulp by the smoldering remains of my original robotic ideals, it was time to see "Real Steel."
"Real Steel" has been advertised as the "robot movie with a heart," which I guess was a campaign put together by a studio anxious to cash in by combining the audiences of "WALL-E," "Short Circuit" and "*Batteries Not Included." I can assure you that "Real Steel" is absolutely nothing like any of those three films, unless you saw a Bollywood remake where Johnny-5 who was forced to become a pit-fighter in order to support his rusting family.
No, "Real Steel" is pretty much like any boxing movie you've ever seen, only with robots instead of humans, and a little boy instead of an annoying girlfriend. Some washed-up former pugilist who now goes from town to town with his robotic circus freak show gets one last shot at metal-on-metal glory by advancing through the ranks of ironclad robo-e-robo combat. This would have made a decent premise for a video game - at least until they introduced the 11-year old boy who somehow discovers the robot boxing prodigy that will become their meal ticket. Remember the last time you found something at the junkyard that, instead of giving you tetanus, made you the champion of the world? No, me neither.
"Real Steel" was executive produced by Stephen Spielberg, and it continues not only his tired theme of a missing father figure, but, more disturbingly, his willingness to abuse and torture synthetic beings. In "A.I." we were treated to hyper-realistic scenes of android torture. "Real Steel" amps that up to eleven and makes it the entire premise of the film. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that Spielberg has a secret sex dungeon somewhere with a Japanese pleasure-both chained to the wall. With half its face burned off by a curling iron.
In my mind, there will only ever be on robot boxing movie, and that is "Robot Jox." "Jox" had it all - early 90's hair, a weird subplot about genetically-engineered hotties and the fate of the world resting on every punch. "Real Steel" offers a robot that fights a cow. I'll let you decide which is more entertaining.
Please don't pick the cow.
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