When a mediocre Disney ride became a hit film franchise, Hollywood seemed to look under every rock for a future money-making hit. After a deal involving a board game company and a large studio, we now have the likes of Battleships to look forward to, with the possibility of Monopoly as well. Until its their turn to role the dice then, anyone remember Rock Em Sock Em Robots? Hollywood certainly does...
There are films that become so iconic that they create their own wannabes - "Die Hard on a..." "Indiana Jones-esque adventure..." and of course, "Rocky-like..." Real Steel not only falls into that last category but conjours not one, but two of the long-running franchise entries. So long as the source is acknowledged and respected, that kind of homage can sometimes work.
Levy who delivered such fare as the Night At The Museum movies and Date Night has shown that he can do family feel-good films and people out-of-their-depth movies and here he doesn't have to try too hard to continue that trend. Despite its more mature-based foundations of Stallone's underdog story, he has an ace up his sleeve to help merge together the two types of genre that he has dabbled in - and that ace is Hugh Jackman.
Every bit the lead actor, some of the film gets by on his smile and charisma alone. Even in the more cornier elements of the story - the ex-partner's sister who hates him, the revenge-seeking bully/small time hood after blood and money - it's Jackman who keeps the interest up on the screen. The whole Rocky IV finale involving a Russian-owned Megatron look-a-likey champ vs the peoples underdog cross between WALL-E and C-3PO does stretch the believability line abit thin but by that time, you've already bought into the "cheer on the little guy" mentality that these types of films foster.
With another Stallone movie rifted on - Over The Top - the father learning to bond with the son he never had over a mutual sport interest, fills up most of the running time but luckily the child (Goyo) doesn't grate too much. His moments with the under-developed robot, Atom, are his best, especially the humouress dance sequences that become their trademark before they enter the ring.
The robots themselves are impressive looking but its their lack of personality that holds back the engagement from the audience. It's not until the final fight of small, no-chance Atom against the might Zeus, where you start to feel for him and want him to win. After all, these robots don't hurt or die so it's hard to connect with them as there's no real apparent danger. That changes when, with use of WALL-E esque sound effects and baby-blue glowing eyes, you start to think that Atom may not be an unfeeling machine.
A good fun family film where unusually the effects help the story rather than swamp it, Real Steel is a definite contender for your attention but not necessarily a undisputed champion.
UK release date:14.10.11