Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is a former journeyman boxer who attempts to regain his self-respect and that of the son (Dakota Goyo) he abandoned years ago through the sport of robot boxing (think Rock-Em, Sock-Em Robots for the virtual age). The cute, Rocky-meets-The Transformers vibe inadequately hides the fact that the story is loosely based on a piece from author Richard Matheson (I Am Legend).
The undefined future as the setting goes more than retro; this story wallows in the bloodlust of the gladiatorial age with slaves being fed to lions and men fighting one another to the death for the pleasure of others, although at times it feels like the world of Real Steel pits the poor against the poorer, especially in its underground robot battles where human loan sharks and enforcers still apply beat-downs and desperate men like Kenton will do anything, pushing ’bots to the breaking point and selling his son’s custody rights to the highest bidder, to get ahead.
Somehow, though, the darker aspects of these deeds get glossed over, guaranteeing that there is little to offend the sensibilities of the anticipated family-friendly DreamWorks audience. It would have been a sign of steely resolve to play up the gritty reality, offering an alternative future shock that viewers could have truly imagined as an offshoot of these dark economic times, while also providing the good old crash and crunch. Grade: D+