What’s the Story?
It’s like Rocky with robots and a side of abusive parenting.
Hugh Jackman is a washed-up robot boxer (as in, he controls the robot, not he fights against robots). His ex-girlfriend dies and leaves him a kid. Now comes the heartwarming journey where they find a robot together and his son teaches him to be a winner and how to love again or some bollocks.
What’s the Problem?
Surprisingly little. The synopsis above, for instance, doesn’t really happen. Once Hugh meets his kid, the first thing he does is sell him to the kid’s uncle for $100,000. Yep. Sold his son for cash. Sentimental father learns to love again? Nope. Ka-ching? Yep.
And that’s good. Not morally, of course, but in terms of storytelling. Because everyone expected them to have a lovely bonding road movie together and become close and stuff and live happily ever after. Instead, right from the get-go we know that Hugh’s a bit of an arse and has sold his son. He’s basically just babysitting while he waits for aunt and uncle to get back from their holiday, at which point he can hand the kid over and be done with it. Which is a refreshing change of pace.
Of course, things don’t quite go like that. Hugh does learn important lessons about responsibility and connects with his son and blah blah blah, but it’s not so bad as you think. It could have been much worse. For instance, the kid falls down a cliff and Hugh runs down and they have their big emotional hug and don’t-you-ever-do-that-again,-you-hear-me moment in the rain. The kid has found a robot, though, and wants to dig it up. In your typical movie, they’d dig the robot up together because the Hero has learned a Valuable Lesson.
Hugh basically tells him to get stuffed and that his robot is crap and leaves the ten-year-old alone on the bottom of a cliff in the rain at night to dig up a nine-foot-tall robot all by himself.
That’s what I mean about it being refreshing. Hugh’s a jerk. Genuinely a jerk. He does some utterly unlikeable things throughout the film and they’re not just a gritty coating over a lovely person. He, at heart, repeatedly makes the same bad decisions. That’s part of who he is. He hasn’t been waiting for the right person to show him that the world is all flowers and bunnies because it’s not and this is how he’s learned to deal with it.
But the film is also cliched in other ways. The robot, for instance, is a training bot that is designed to get hit a lot but not hit back hard at all. Nonetheless, the kid believes in his new friend while Hugh acts the total tool and constantly tells him his robot is shit.
But they go a bit overboard on that part. We, as the audience, know that the robot is going to do well, so I mostly wanted to tell Hugh to shut up.
Also, Hugh does some moronic things. Like (before getting Atom, the robot you saw in all the trailers) pit his expensive robot in a fight against a current champion without first learning how to use his robot.
That’s like playing table tennis against the world champion before you’ve worked out which end of the bat you hold.
He’s a moron at times. And a bit of stupid is fine, but the movie is a bit heavy-handed. Of course, it’s a kid’s film about giant fighting robots, so that’s probably for the benefit of the younger viewers.
What’s not for the benefit of the younger viewers, though, is that the kid is, at times, much like his dad: intolerable. Not often – in fact, most of his most annoying (and worst-acted) lines are in the trailer – but at times you quite enjoy Hugh being a jerk to him because that’s what you’d like to do.
Also, at times his acting isn’t that great, but what do you expect when you put him next to an A-list Hollywood star?
Robots. Robots don’t get tired. But a large part of this film is that the robots act very like humans in the boxing ring – they get tired, make mistakes, have weaknesses. But there’s not discernable reason to program a robot with a “stagger around the ring like you are dizzy” animation. Because it wouldn’t get dizzy. Beacuse it’s being controlled by a man with a remote control.
I understand why they put this in the film: they need to the audience to know when a robot is being damaged so they can sympathise. They want the robots to be, basically, humans. But from a logic point of view it makes no damned sense.
Especially since the big bad robot in the final fight gets tired. They box for all of twenty minutes and its battery starts to fail. Really? How do they train the thing? Did no one test how long the battery life is? Did you not think to chang the battery between rounds?
Now, I don’t propose to be an expert on giant boxing robots, but I don’t believe that turning a robot off automatic and assuming manual control would suddenly make its battery (which had nearly depleted) go from nearly empty to nearly full.
The big bad robot was sagging from low battery power, but as soon as its creator assumes control, it leaps back to battle and has a new burst of enegry. Why? How? It’s battery is still empty, guys.
Not Enough Fighting Styles
Early on, they say that robot boxing came about because people were expanding into all these different martial arts and audiences wanted to see bigger and more violent fights. But every fight with the robots is boxing. Where are the muay tai robots? The karate or kung fu robots? The drunken boxing robots?
Not as boring or messy aesthetically as the Transformers, but these robots all look essentially human. One has two heads, but that’s as exotic as they get. But why? You could have a robot with six arms. Or four legs. You could have agile robots and quick robots and tank robots. Instead you’ve got man-robots boxing against man-robots. Sigh.
Hugh’s robot (Atom) has a mode where it mirrors whatever it sees someone doing. This allows it to learn new fight moves. Fair enough.
Hugh uses this in the final match to fight the big bad. No controls, just mirroring. I’m amazed that Atom was even facing its opponent at any stage, let alone landing punches. That stretched believability a bit far for me.
Giant robots? Sure. Annoying kid is some kind of technical genius? Aren’t they all. Former-boxer dad can fight the best robot fighter in history just by mirroring? I call bullshit.
It seemed like, early on, they were setting up clues that Atom was actually conscious. Had AI. Was learning and reacting. That perhaps it was an abandoned prototype of a new kind of robot. And that, moreso, the big bad robot at the end was the finished product: a nigh-unstoppable machine with intelligent AI that was made by the creator of Atom (we hear that he came out of retirement to make the big bad).
Turned out it wasn’t. At all.
What’s the Solution?
More diverse robots. More fighting styles. Kid less annoying. Hugh… just as much of a jerk but less of an idiot when it comes to business decisions. No magical batteries. No misleading crap about sentient robots.
Yeah. Just think of it as Rocky with robots and you’ll do fine. And it’s far less awful than all of its trailers would lead you to think. For mindless entertainment, you could do a whole lot worse.