A genre mashup borrowed from TRANSFORMERS (2007), OVER THE TOP (1987) and ROCKY (1976) all rolled into one, Shawn Levy's first foray outside his usual comedy genre in REAL STEEL is a slickly-packaged Hollywood blockbuster that celebrates the good old-fashioned "feel good" factor you often seen in this kind of movies.
Based on a Richard Matheson short story Steel from 1956, which was later adapted into an episode of The Twilight Zone, REAL STEEL tells the story of Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman), who was once a promising boxer before the boxing sport took over by robots. Now he travels across country as a lowly promoter, where he uses junkyard fighting bots to fight on the underground boxing circuit, and made enough money for himself and his girlfriend Bailey (Evangeline Lilly of TV's Lost). Then along came his estranged 11-year-son Max (Dakota Goyo), whose mother has just died. Charlie is offered by Max's aunt Debra's (Hope Davis) wealthy husband Marvin (James Rebhorn) $75,000 to take care of the kid for the summer while they are in Italy. It's a whopping offer Charlie can't refuse, and furthermore he needs that money to supply a new robot. During the particular summer, Charlie and Max are struggling to get along to each other until they eventually comes upon an older robot model named Atom they found in a junkyard. At first Charlie figures Atom is a useless, outdated piece of junk but Max has a good feeling that Atom is primed to become a serious robot fighter. It doesn't take long before Max has subsequently proving that Atom is a best bet after all especially when he begins to win a lot of fighting competitions. With the help of Charlie in choreographing the moves, Atom is soon joining the World Robot Boxing Championship and compete against the best of the best.
John Gatins' screenplay is hackneyed at best where no cliches are left unturned. Still thanks to Shawn Levy's confident direction, the movie is watchable enough to keep you occupied throughout its two-hour running time. The cast is also another one of the main reasons to watch for -- Hugh Jackman is energetic and full of swagger in his Charlie Kenton role and Evangeline Lilly emerges as a worthwhile love interest in what could have been a thankless role. In the meantime, Dakota Goyo gives a lively performance as Max, who pairs well with Hugh Jackman.
But of all the cast above, the scene-stealer really belongs to Atom the fighting robot. Despite not given a single spoken words, Atom conveys enough expressive aura within his glowing neon-blue eyes and his metal-meshed face that made us care for him.
Speaking of Atom, the robot design is blend seamlessly with CGI and animatronic effect. The exciting fight sequence (particularly the show-stopping finale), in the meantime, is well-staged by the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard.