Saturday, October 8, 2011

Rock 'em sock 'em transformers

Real Steel has this dorky outdoor ad campaign in which fightin' robots from the movie have their arms raised like victorious boxers. The freeway I take home from work is festooned with these billboards.

Yet for some reason, I always look at them. Not glance at them; not register their existence. Look, like you'd look at something that really interested you.

I'm not really interested in Real Steel, but there's undoubtedly something appealing about it. A friend of mine recently said "I want to live in a world where Real Steel could be good." That's pretty much how I feel about it.

The appeal of Real Steel may not be such a mystery. Overtly, it's Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots: The Movie, which is actually a really great idea that I'm surprised hasn't been made yet. But it may be a bit more like Transformers: Ultimate Fighting Championship.

I think the reason I stop and look at the Real Steel posters is the same reason I scrutinized the posters for the various Transformers movies over the years: Robots beating the crap out of each other is just plain viscerally exciting.

The clever thing about Real Steel is that it owes a major debt to Transformers without seeming to owe a major debt to Transformers. Without the success of Michael Bay's Transformers movies, I don't think Real Steel gets made. But the idea for Real Steel is different enough that no one can say "That's a Transformers ripoff." It gets all the positive associations (robots kicking each other's butts) without any of the negative (that's a ripoff/the Transformers movies are stupid).

I'm not saying this will actually translate into a good weekend at the box office for Real Steel. Enough people are laughing at the very idea of this movie that it will become an obstacle to overcome. One blogger I read even posted the trailer when it first came out this spring, asking if it was a real movie.

But I'm betting Real Steel will have legs, even if they are shiny and metal and dance around the ring like a mechanized Muhammad Ali.

My biggest concern about the movie is whether they'll be able to create a real sense of danger for the human characters. On one of the podcasts I listen to, one of the hosts talked about how the movie would be better if it involved humans inside robot suits, which they would wear like protective armor. The other host had a pretty decent retort: "That's a different movie."

But I get the idea he was going for -- why should we be worried about the guys on the sidelines with the remote controls, pumping their fists or looking grave when someone knocks their robot's block off?

My guess is that Hugh Jackman and his son will be evading mob bosses or some other shady characters who fix the matches. And naturally, that story will climax right around the time their modest sparring robot has his championship fight against the evil larger robot who cheats.

Movies are so predictable.

No comments: