I HATE to be presumptuous, but Real Steel needs some help, and I'm the best person to give it. After all, I spent upward of 20,000 hours of my youth playing Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots ("You knocked my block off!" "But you can press it back on again!"), so I think I know a thing or two about boxing robots and how they should be portrayed on film.
Granted, the makers of Real Steel do a pretty nice job of introducing us to a world where humans pay good money to watch robots beat the shit out of each other. This is a totally believable concept, and one that should be implemented as soon as possible. (The movie takes place in 2020—but that's not nearly soon enough for my tastes.) Hugh Jackman plays washed-up boxer Charlie Kenton, who travels the robot-boxing state-fair circuit pitting his crappy 'bot against any comers, including... A LIVE BULL!?! (2020, hurry up and get here!!) Okay, so if this were the movie—two nonstop hours of robots punching bulls in the mouth—I would never stop watching it. Unfortunately, Real Steel quickly hits the canvas and never gets up.
Desperate to raise dough for a new robot and pay off his gambling debts, Charlie agrees to babysit his illegitimate—and surprise, precocious—son Max (Dakota Goyo). Uh oh. The normally likeable and sexy Evangeline Lilly plays Charlie's damp-eyed nursemaid, who is not only unlikeable, but a boner murderer. Uh oh. Max tries to make a contender (and surrogate father) out of a dilapidated sparring robot he finds in the junkyard—a real "junkyard dog" if you will. Uh oh. So now robot, deadbeat dad, and precocious little shit travel the country winning fights, healing emotional wounds, earning second chances, and not punching nearly enough bulls. That's a lot of "uh ohs."
In Real Steel's favor, the rockin' sockin' robot battles are suitably violent and enjoyable—but by the end, these small joys are overwhelmed by emotional button pushing, clunky clichés, and a severe lack of focus. There are just too many major characters, and, sorry li'l Dakota Goyo, you should've been cut from this film like a festering polyp. A simple story about a boxer, his robot, and the bulls they knock unconscious is what this fight doctor ordered.