Is “Real Steel” the “feel good movie of the year?” No, that title still belongs to “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.”
“Real Steel” does have several elements that work on an audience’s emotions. Among them is the cutest kid actor since Ricky Schroeder was a pre-teen. He is Dakota Goyo who stars as Hugh Jackman’s 11-year-old son. Jackman plays a boozy ex-boxer turned boxing robot wrangler who has had little contact with his offspring.
When the boy’s mom dies, Jackman takes temporary custody. Turns out the boy has a passion for and knowledge of boxing robots! Despite longstanding resentments, they begin to bond. They work together to train an early generation boxing robot they find in a junkyard and take this bot up the ladder, all the way to a fight against the world’s top-ranked robot boxer.
The balance of robot boxing and humanity in the movie is good. The boxing segments are fun to watch and they are not overly long. (Lengthy fight footage is a fault I find with many boxing flicks and “Transformers” films.)
As Jackman rehabs his relationship with his son, he also patches things up with his sort-of girlfriend who is heir to the gym where he trained. She’s played by Evangeline Lilly of “Lost” fame.
Along with his finally being a good guy for his son and his lady, Jackman achieves personal redemption during the climactic bot battle. If you are a moviegoer who responds emotionally to all these heartstring tugs, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll applaud.
“Real Steel” is rated PG-13, but kids younger than 13 who have had exposure to video games and other movie violence should be able to handle and enjoy it. My guess is that most serious critics will be lukewarm toward “Real Steel,” but good word-of-mouth will lead this movie to pile up some heavy metal at the box office.