My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Snapshot: Although the story is predictable, the movie is charmingly entertaining due to the interesting human drama of a father/son relationship and some exciting robot boxing.
This Dreamworks production has been Spielbergized from the gritty near-future source material penned by the prolific Richard Matheson (see my blog post here for more on Matheson) to a hybrid science fiction/sports/family drama with a more light-hearted tone. The kernel of the original story has been retained: Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman), a down-on-his-luck ex-boxer, becomes the operator of an obsolete robot boxer in hopes of striking a big payday.
What’s been added is a major subplot involving Charlie suddenly having to take custody of his 11-year-old son Max (Dakota Goyo) that he has never known. Of course the kid has more smarts than his old man, but both are stubborn and won’t admit they care for each other until going through a series of challenges.
There was enough chemistry between Jackman and Goyo to make me care about their relationship. Goyo is a charming young man who should have a bright future in Hollywood.
There was enough robot fighting action to satisfy me. The special effects were very well done. The robots looked real and they moved realistically. Much of the robot boxing fights were motion-captured using real boxers, supervised by boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard.
The film is set in an unspecified near future. Unfortunately, the cars, clothes, and such did not look as futuristic as the robots.
A big problem I had was that Atom, the robot that Max digs out from the bottom of a mud pit in a junk yard, immediately works without much, if any, refurbishment or recharging. (What power source did the robots use, anyway? I never saw them connected to rechargers, so were they nuclear? That seems unlikely. The champion Zeus started to run out of power near the end of the climactic fight, so it must be a finite source.)
I know Charlie wasn’t supposed to be the brightest bulb, but someone with his experience should have known better than to put his robot Noisy Boy in a big fight without first thoroughly checking him out, learning the operating system, and doing some practice sessions.
I also wondered why the robots were controlled by game pads and joy sticks. We already have things like Xbox Kinect that allow what they called shadowboxing in the movie. Why didn’t every robot have that? It seems a more practical way to operate a system that relies on quick decision making, while maintaining a human element to the boxing.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed portrayal of robot fighting even if real fighting robots would unlikely be anthropomorphic and use conventional boxing techniques. Take a look at current robot competitions such as BattleBots and Dean Kamen’s FIRST Robotics Competition—the robots have all kinds of shapes, sizes, and designs—which are very exciting (and often violent).
Overall, “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots: The Movie” was an entertaining, if not too plausible, movie. There is certainly a lot more story to be mined from this universe, and I look forward to a sequel (if it’s done right).
If you get the chance, check out the Twilight Zone episode “Steel” from 1963 starring Lee Marvin that Matheson adapted from his short story.