It's a brand name that people recognize, it might bring in some business from the nostalgia crowd, and the audience would be waiting breathlessly in anticipation of someone's Block getting Knocked Off.
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Plus, it couldn't hurt the sales of a reissued line of toys. Just look at the way everybody won with the success of the "Transformers" series. My only theory is that there was supposed to be a tie-in and then the Rock'Em Sock'Em people actually saw this lousy movie and bailed. They likely felt that the film was not up to the high quality standards that people expect of Rock'Em Sock'Em Robots.
The worst thing about the film is the unreasonable leap of faith it requires you to take to buy into its very premise. The film expects you to believe that in a mere 20 years robot boxing will be the most popular sport in the world and human boxing will be obsolete.
The halfhearted explanation we are given is that people wanted to see more violence and robots can pulverize each other without any risk to humans. Not only does this logic insult the millions of fans who appreciate the science and legacy of human boxing, it also implies that lovers of bloodsports will automatically endorse robot boxing, which they won't.
Sports violence is nothing without human pain. Metal getting ripped apart does not qualify as carnage. If it did, footage of car compactors would be airing on pay-per-view.
So the film is already off on a bad note. Robots aside, the film follows the clichéd plot of the typical boxing movie.
The hero Charlie (Hugh Jackman) is a washed-up human boxer now down his luck in the robot racket. He sees an opportunity to make some money selling the custodial rights to his son, Max (Dakota Goyo), after the boy's mother dies and his rich aunt and uncle want to adopt him.
But he needs to take care of the boy for the summer. Max hates Charlie, but loves robot boxing. Charlie has to reluctantly take Max with him as he tours the country managing his prized new robot, who gets destroyed in his first fight.
Needing something new, the two rummage through a junkyard, leading to Max falling off a cliff. He gets snagged at the last minute by a beaten-up robot called Atom, long forgotten, who Max decides will be the family's new meal ticket.
Though Atom is built to be a loser, Charlie and Max work together to make him a winner. The work involves bonding and of course they develop an increasingly strong relationship.
Crowds love Atom because he's an underdog and because he dances (one guess which dance move the robot prefers).
Soon Max and Charlie are winning fights and climbing ever closer to a title bout with world champion Zeus.
Zeus's owners are supposed to be bad guys, but they never do anything more evil than glare evilly. The only proper villain in the movie is an old boxing rival of Charlie's who cheats him early in the movie and then shows up later like clockwork to ruin the party. His comeuppance is lame and I immediately thought of a better one.
Charlie controls Atom by using a mimickry system and punching air. What if the bad guy tried to jump Charlie during the big fight and Charlie delivered a legitimate knockout blow as Atom simultaneously got in a major shot on Zeus?
I give "Real Steel" two stars only because I grade on a curve if I see the movie with an audience that clearly loves it. Some of the reactions I heard were so big that the theater floor was shaking.
So maybe there's something good about the film that I didn't see. Maybe people are more eager to endorse the stupid fighting robots than I thought.
2 stars out of Five
"Real Steel" is rated PG-13 for some violence, intense action, and brief language. Its running time is 127 minutes.