Robot boxing is nothing new. The concept became popularized in the 1960s thanks to the Richard Matheson-penned episode of The Twilight Zone starring Lee Marvin (“Steel”, 1963) and the release of the classic action toy Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots a year later. The most recent example of the battling robot concept that comes to mind (aside from the obvious) was the late ’90s phenomenon that was television’s Robot Wars. Real Steel isn’t nearly as fun as any of its predecessors (okay, maybe it’s more enjoyable than Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em, which grew dull after a minute or two and usually didn’t work correctly in any case), but it’s a prime example of the modern family film that spruces up old conventions with hi-tech computer effects. The film will most likely be remembered with a Goonies or Ghostbusters-like fondness amongst the current generation of 10-year-olds, but it will always be a boring slog for the rest of us.
In the not-too-distant future where county fairs, Dr. Pepper, and Eminem continue to thrive, a young boy (Dakota Goyo) finds an old sparring robot and pimps it out with the help of his robot-boxing deadbeat dad (Hugh Jackman). That pretty much sums it up. Sugar Ray Leonard supervised the boxing elements, which is somewhat interesting, but that’s the last thing on discriminating viewers’ minds at the two hour mark (it’s 127 minutes in total). I could go into the frustrating laziness of the script, how despicable characters are rooted for simply because the commercials tell audiences to do so or because Wolverine is obviously supposed to be the good guy, but it’s a harmless and ultimately forgettable family film that does its best to manipulate viewers to tears. It’s either your thing or it’s not.
Real Steel opens in Philly-area theaters today.