Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is a two-bit trainer working the state fair circuit in a not-too-distant future. His line is robot fighting, a sport that has absorbed the audience for boxing, MMA, and, apparently, demolition derby. Feckless Charlie gets a taste of responsibility tending his estranged 11-year-old son, Max (Dakota Goyo). Touchy though things are between them, Max is a quick study and helps to refurbish a salvaged old sparring robot into a legitimate contender. In a story predicated on the surpassing of man by machine, Real Steel doesn't engage in the same—it's what a publicist might describe as an “effects movie with heart.” Real Steel concerns down-and-outers getting their one last title shot—but fit, spry Jackman is hard to buy as a hard-luck case, while elfin child actor Dakota Goyo could only be a cloying child actor named “Dakota.” On the multiplex stage, the subservience of action to character development has become a rare enough arrangement of priorities to cause a stir whenever it occurs, but the development of simplistic characters along overfamiliar lines isn't intrinsically preferable to pure sensation or the free run of imagination—and there is little of either here.

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