Movies That Need More Love: Real Steel

I love Real Steel, directed by Shawn Levy.  I simply adore this movie.  It earned my love the first time I watched it and it has never diminished.  Just to let you know my bias.

Is it formulaic?  Oh yes.  Real Steel owes a great deal to the Rocky movies in its formula.  It’s a (very) loose adaptation of the Richard Matheson short story “Steel” which appeared on The Twilight Zone in 1963.  Elements of that story are still there, but mostly serves as the kernel of a new story entirely.  The TZ story was more serious and depressing.

Anyway, you’ve got Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) as a former boxer turned robot boxer promoter.  Backstory reveals that human boxing languished as robot boxing started, as mere humans couldn’t give the type of spectacle the fans wanted.  Charlie reconnects with his son Max (Dakota Goyo) after Max’s mother dies.  Charlie cynically sells away his rights to Max for enough money to continue robot boxing, only to lose again and again.  Part of the deal is that Max stays with Charlie over the summer.

Charlie gets more than he bargained for with Max, as he’s a robot boxing fan and knows more about robots than Charlie.  More than that, Charlie begins to care about his son as more than a moneymaking scheme.  He’s alternately encouraged and chastened by Bailey Tallet (Evangeline Lilly) who is the daughter of his deceased former boxing coach.

After all of Charlie’s expensive robots are destroyed, Max literally falls over an older robot called “Atom” in a junkyard.  They fix Atom up and discover he punches well above his weight class.

Kid, let me tell you about this time my plane crashed on an island . . .

Every actor in this movie punches above his or her weight class.  Hugh Jackman gives a typically great performance.  He manages to portray a burned out loser who isn’t an idiot, but constantly does stupid things by impulse.  I normally loathe child actors, but Dakota Goyo is a joy to watch.  He’s precocious, but not annoyingly precocious, like too many child actors.  He still shows expected, childish gaps in his knowledge.  Evangeline Lilly is also wonderful.  She doesn’t have a lot of screen time, but she packs a lot of heart in the few minutes she slips in and out.  (On a personal note, I find her to be absolutely gorgeous, in a ‘girl next door’ kind of way.)  Kevin Durand is hilariously great as the over-the-top heavy with an exaggerated redneck accent and sneering smile.  (Compare it with his Brooklyn/Ukranian accent on The Strain.  The guy’s got some range.)

(Side note: Sugar Ray Leonard advised the fight choreography.)

I would be amiss in not mentioning the Academy Award nominated robot effects in this movie.  The effects people outdid themselves.  The CGI interacts with the human actors

If you were a vampire, I’d so kill you.

and practical effects in a well-choreographed and very believable fashion.  Contrast it with the awful interactions in pretty much any Transformers movie and you’ll see that people who complain about too much CGI don’t understand.  It’s not the effects–it’s how they’re used.  Real Steel uses them like a maestro.  You can easily fool yourself into thinking these robots are real.

The filmmakers show the science fiction elements of this near-future setting, but don’t cram them down your throat.  Multiple, logical progressions of existing technology linger in the background.  The obvious ones with the robots are still handled in a mundane enough manner to suspend disbelief.

I love all of the above, but the part that really ties it up into a bow is that this is a guy’s movie.  No, not a guy’s movie–a father’s movie.  This entire movie is love letter to fatherhood.  So often these days fathers are mocked and/or shown to be shitheads or simply unnecessary.  (“A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”.)  This movie does everything but put a banner in praise of fatherhood over the top of the screen.  Fatherhood really matters in this movie and isn’t the least bit shy about showing it.

I’d make a joke about the scene, but I love it too much.

Are there predictable, cliched elements?  Absolutely.  But cliches become cliches because they work. If you have good writing, dialogue and heart, I don’t care if something has been done before.  Real Steel has enough heart for two movies.  I defy any man to not get a little misty-eyed during the Zeus shadow boxing.  Go on, I dare you.

If you’ve never seen this movie–what are you waiting for?!  Go find a copy and watch it!  Immediately!

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Television that Needs More Love: Mighty Orbots

In the primeval year 1984, I ran across a keen animated show called Mighty Orbots on ABC.  It only ran for a single season before disappearing without a trace.  Years later when describing it to others, skepticism arose.  No one else acknowledged its existence.  At times I wondered whether or not I had hallucinated the entire series. 

Then came the wonder of the internet and–voila!–it turns out to have existed after all.  Although I didn’t know why it disappeared.  It was vastly superior to the other animated shows at the time, especially the shows it derived from–namely Voltron and Transformers.  With superior animation, better characters and decent writing, the show should have been renewed for several seasons.

Unfortunately not.  My suspicions leaned towards poor marketing, but a lawsuit by Tonka was the real culprit.  Tonka accused the show owners of ripping off their GoBots franchise.  For those of you unfamiliar with GoBots, those were a toy line that basically ripped off Transformers and had its own animated series Challenge of the Gobots (the animation was weak, however the writing wasn’t terrible.)  GoBots has since faded into obscurity and I wouldn’t expect to see a big screen adaptation anytime soon.  Anyway, Tonka torpedoes Mighty Orbots and we only get a single season.  Pity.

The basis for the show is familiar.  Six robots with individual powers merge to form a more powerful robot.  Nothing new there.  However, the robots all have unique powers.  Tor is a super-strong brute.  Bort is a skinny ‘geek’ that can shape shift.  Bo is a ‘female’ Orbot with the ability to control the four elements (earth, air, fire and water.)  Boo is another ‘female’ Orbot with light and illusion powers.  Crunch is a ‘fat’ robot that can eat anything and transform it into energy for the rest.  Ohno is the last Orbot, and she’s a tiny ‘child’ robot who is necessary for the other Orbots to merge into “Mighty Orbot”. 

The leader and leader of the Orbots is Rob Simmons, who is your standard Nerdy Scientist Hero archetype.  He actually has a secret identity when he isn’t working with the Galactic Patrol (which is exactly what they sound like.)  They fight the obligatory evil organization SHADOW in the far future.

The tone of the series was light-hearted and much closer to an American superhero team than either Voltron or Transformers.  The Orbots have ‘superpowers’ instead of a bunch of guns and unlike Voltron, are actually pretty competent and interesting individually.  Also unlike Voltron, this wasn’t a simple Japanese import.  They produced this show specifically for American audiences and it feels like it.  The animation is first rate, especially for a television series.

I watched a couple of episodes recently and, yes, it’s a kid’s show and a bit dated, but still not bad.  Despite having only a single 13-episode season, it also does what few other franchised animated shows do: has an ending.  At the end of the only season, Mighty Orbots fight and defeat the ‘big bad’ leader of SHADOW, a supercomputer critter called Umbra.  So you can watch the only season and still get a satisfying conclusion.

Go check it out. 

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