Tag Archives: Hugh Jackman

Real Steel: Atom the Sparring Bot Is The New Rocky

Steel Yourself Against the Unrealistic

In this highly original film, Hugh Jackman plays Charlie, a young, down-on-his luck boxer who is forced to fight in illegal underground leagues since the professional circuit won’t give him any matches, but he doesn’t understand the true danger that lies in these viscous boxing circles. In his first fight, he is maimed and beaten beyond recognition, and as he lies dying, a programmer surgeon boy genius from the audience comes to his rescue. With the boy’s newly invented technology, they can rebuild him, better than he was before, and Hugh Jackman becomes the first Robot Boxer.

Flash forward fifteen years. Jackman’s given birth to a part-cyborg son, Max, but he hasn’t spent any time with the boy because he can’t face explaining his robot origins and doesn’t want to tell Max that he’ll never be able to live a normal life. But when Max’s mom dies, Jackson is forced to take custody of the bio-robo-child, and while Charlie trains Max to be the best boxer the world’s ever seen, the two of them slowly learn what it means to feel semi-organic machine love.

No wait, sorry. That’s not the plot at all. The plot is actually Rocky…WITH ROBOTS. I just didn’t want to write about something so generic, so I made up my own storyline. It’s literally exactly the same as Rocky, only Rocky is named Atom, and instead of rooting for him, you’re rooting for the estranged father-son team who controls him with a joystick. It might be the most cliché thing since sliced bread, but who cares? It’s ridiculously fun to watch, maybe because robot boxing is literally the best sport of all time.

For example, there was this one part when this robot fought this other robot. Holy crap. It was awesome. And then the robots were jumping all around, and one of their heads came off this one time, and another time one of them exploded, and there was this sick Japanese one, and this really badass undefeated one named Zeus. Whoa.

Zeus serves as the main villain sort of. He’s Rocky’s Apollo Creed, but you know that he’s even more hardcore because Zeus is higher up in the chain of command than Apollo. Since Zeus is just a robot, he can’t really be a villain though. The actual bad guy is probably this hardcore Asian dude who programmed Zeus to be INVINCIBLE!! Asian guy looks super badass and is always glaring and snarling and he has the best lines in the movie, like “He has been programmed for every possible contingency!” and “The outcome of any match is inevitable!”

One of the best parts of this movie is Atom’s storyline. In Rocky, it makes sense to see him training and improving, and you can really root for him. Here, the writers need to go out of their way to make the tug-at-your-heartstrings Atom a likable character, and one of the main ways they do it is by giving him a “shadow function,” meaning that when you flip a switch he turns into a mimic, copying exactly what you do. That way, instead of training looking like a scene from Hackers, with Hugh Jackman inputting a ton of lines of code into a computer, you get to see Jackman literally teach the robot boxing moves.

Atom’s got a cute face and these big blue eyes, so he seems almost alive. In fact, pretty early on, the movie hints at him being sentient. The fact that he has a shadow function and can constantly learn from his surroundings lends credence to this theory, and maybe that’s why this amazing bot was found discarded in a junkyard…because he was becoming dangerously self-aware! I was excited for that plotline, but it was just a big mislead. In fact, it was so big of a mislead that I don’t think it was supposed to be there at all and I just read really heavily into things for no reason. I wonder if anyone else felt the same way.

Atom’s a sparring bot, which means he was built for other bots to practice on and he can take a lot of hits, but that’s pretty much all we know about him. When he gets knocked down, he gets back up, cause, you know, it wouldn’t be good sparring practice if he just stayed on the ground. It’s actually surprisingly emotional to see this robot constantly struggle to his feet, but when you think about, without the whole sentience thing, it’s not particularly impressive. Ooh, his wiring didn’t short circuit. Ahh, he’s not out of energy. Wow, he’s still got all his limbs.

Throughout the film, Max keeps talking about how Atom can do things no bot has ever done before, and that’s why he’s so amazing, but the movie makes very sure not to ever mention or show any of these so-called “things.” Walking out of that theater, I was totally unaware of how in the world Atom had succeeded at anything. It’s not like he had heart, or drive, or even any particular skill. I think there was probably some witchcraft involved in a deleted scene. Eye of newt, tongue of shrike, make this robot Rocky-like.

I’m not sure if I’ve made this clear yet, but this movie is AWESOME. I absolutely loved it. The complete absurdity of it all was fun and never once got on my nerves, and the robot battles were almost sweeter than in Transformers. The kid was actually a good actor, and the movie was surprisingly emotional. Oh, and Evangeline Lily of Lost fame managed to land an another acting role, so that makes me relatively happy. If you like fun, nonsensical Hollywood movies with a heart, go check this out.

Score:

Alignment:

Shadow boxing is the coolest sounding climax gimmick in the history of film.

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X-Men: First Class – Magneto Turns Evil and Xavier Gets a New Ride

And a First Class film it was!

Not since 2003 have we been graced with a truly good X-Men movie, but it seems the curse of the Wolverine has been lifted, for X-Men: First Class is a film that has evolved beyond its ancestors, a film that is equal parts entertaining and compelling, that portrays relatable, human (technically non-human) characters while still placing the fate of the world in their hands. Somehow, amidst a profusion of by-the-numbers superhero movies, a mutant has been born, and its power far exceeds that of the average cinematic experience.

One of the main reasons this film succeeds is because the CGI battles take a back seat to more poignant scenes about mutants grappling with their place in the world. The villain Shaw (Kevin Bacon) believes humans and mutants will never be able to coexist, and since his power allows him to absorb energy, he attempts to provoke Russia and America into nuclear war. In one fell swoop, the war will wipe out a huge percentage of humanity and at the same time provide Shaw with nearly limitless power. The backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis is a parallel that casts a thought-provoking light on the difficulty of coexistence. For once, an X-Men movie’s plot is poignant and metaphorically effective.

[Mini Spoiler Alert] And it thankfully chooses not to focus on Wolverine for a fifth time. After eleven long years spent watching Wolverine carcajou his way through his problems, it was a nice change of pace to have Hugh Jackman’s role cut down to about 15 seconds of screen time—just long enough to drop the PG-13’s one F-bomb (and it’s a great one). Other than that, however, we’re met with an entirely new cast who manage to make us truly feel for these mutants. [End Mini Spoiler Alert]

They look normal enough, well, except for their movie-star attractiveness levels.

James McAvoy steals the show as a young Charles Xavier. He’s a walking, charming, drinking, womanizing piece of brain who just so happens to be a telepath. It’s nice to see that he’s not that different from us, really. The so-wise-he’s-untouchable Yoda version of Professor X from the prior films is gone, and in his place is someone you feel you could get along with at a party, though he’d probably beat you in a chugging contest. I never truly understood Xavier’s idealism before, but McAvoy shows us that doing the right thing can be a struggle. Xavier feels what all others feel, remembers what they remember. When he reads Magneto’s mind, he is filled with just as much rage, and yet he is somehow able to still walk the path of righteousness. When I noticed how deeply I was reading into his character, it became apparent that this film was incredibly well written. How do you write dialogue for someone who is able to empathize completely with everyone he meets? Personally, I don’t know (and as an aspiring screenwriter, this distresses me), but these guys nailed it.

While there are epic stakes and CGI mutant powers aplenty, this film is mostly about the relationship between Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr a.k.a. Magneto. Luckily, Michael Fassbender does just as well with Magneto as McAvoy does with the Professor. The two have a genuine rapport, and Fassbender perfectly straddles the line between evil and relatable. After witnessing his life story, you can’t really begrudge him his actions. His parents’ death at the hands of the Nazis left him broken, a man for whom “peace was never an option.”

The movie seemed not to want me to have peace either, since right about the time Magneto’s explaining his situation, I felt this itch on the top of my big toe. I go to scratch it with my flip flop, but I guess there’s a shard of glass in the bottom and I manage to impale it into my foot. Honestly, this must have been poison glass or something, cause suddenly I’m in excruciating pain and can’t focus on anything except not disgracing myself by whimpering like a little girl. I quickly determine the only course of action is to turn on my phone and use the light to perform some mid-movie surgery. But as soon as the phone boots up it gets all the messages it’s missed for the last half hour. “DROID!” it yells. “DROID!” Then “You dare speak to me.” Everyone at the theater’s pissed and I’m bending over in my seat using this totally ineffective light to try to pick some glass out of my toe that feels like it’s been dipped in some terrible, scalding acid. It was HORRIBLE. Now I’m at home writing this review and my foot just keeps getting bigger. I guess I’m a lot more like Beast than Wolverine. Huge feet, terrible at healing.

All I have to win over the ladies is hang upside down by my feet? It's so simple! Why didn't I see it before?

Speaking of Beast, I found his romance with Mystique to be uncharacteristically weak. For a film so good at delving into the hearts of its characters, I was disappointed to see their love story reduced to nothing more than a high-school level cliché. I get it, you’re both blue and neither of you can accept what you’ve become. But if the civil rights movement has taught us anything, it’s that you’re not required to have sex with people who are the same color as you. Branch out a little, blue folk. Then again, this was the early 1960s, so maybe they were just taking care to avoid any anachronisms. Either way, their potential relationship was nothing more than Mystique fawning over Beast with endless doe-eyed gazes just because he also didn’t fit in. I guess he’s probably into the doe-eyed thing though—deer are beasts, right?

Poorly executed romantic entanglements aside, Mystique still brought a good deal of heart to this film. One of my favorite aspects of the X-Men franchise is that Magneto the villain and Xavier the hero share a close bond. Good and evil are more subtle here, shades of gray drawn with the ink of human emotion, rather than unrealistic characters who embody pure justice and malice. X-Men: First Class delivered on this complicated relationship more successfully than I could have thought possible, perfectly portraying the way two groups can be enemies in intent and method, but friends on a personal level. It was in this way that Mystique’s presence was so compelling, for she and Xavier are foster siblings, yet in the end, she sides with Magneto, unable to come to terms with the world Xavier is working toward, a world in which mutants may forever remain downtrodden. The two siblings still love each other, but they are unable to reconcile their differences, and their parting is a touching moment.

Real issues, real relationships, real badass. I never thought I’d like another X-Men film, but it turns out I was wrong. The actors nail these roles, and the script is fantastic, actually making you care about its characters in a way that no superhero film ever has. It’s a great movie!

Score: 4/5¢

Alignment: Spectacular Gold (It just squeaks into the low end of gold. Still, an impressive feat for a superhero movie.)

How did a bunch of drunk kids pick perfect character aliases first try every time? Mutants with powers that make physics look like a set of suggestions is one thing, but there weren’t any mutants with the power of overwhelming creativity on the team, were there? WERE THERE? Ok, sorry. Maybe this is just hitting a little too close to home.

Written by Russ Nickel

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