A smoke-spewing, gas-guzzling Hummer of a movie, Real Steel is just the crass, supersize metaphor America deserves. In the dubiously near future, old-fashioned boxing is over, robot fighting is the next big thing, and Hugh Jackman, in full-blown Oklahoma! galumphing-galoot mode, is Charlie, an old-fashioned heart-bigger-than-his-brain hero. He coulda been a contender, but the blue-collar ex-boxer from Pennsylvania’s steel belt is all washed up, a gambler who can’t quit going all-in as he hustles bots in boxing matches, mashing buttons on a game controller like an ADD child.
This is not, like Harry Potter or Superman, some rags-to-riches tale about an orphan who’s actually a prince in exile. And it’s not, like The Matrix or Spider-Man, a zero-to-hero story about a dork who realizes he can be a superpowered savior. It’s more of a throwback to Horatio Alger’s Ragged Dick, a rags-to-middle-class-respectability tale about the humble joy of old-fashioned decency. We’re number two! We’re number two!