I liked Real Steel overall as a feel-good movie, but was still left somewhat disappointed on my way home from the cinema. My problem, I realized, was expecting Real Steel to be a movie about robots. It is not. Real Steel is a people story centered around the relationship between a boy and his dad - the robots are really just a hazy backdrop.
The following will contain spoilers.
The bull fight
Real Steel starts off with Charlie’s robot getting shredded by a bull. This opening fight was, in my opinion, cringe-worthy and beyond distasteful. Charlie accepts a challenge to have his robot fight a bull. Vigorous punching and abuse of the bull commences. The bull wins in the end, but the entire scene just made me want to stop watching there and then.
Thankfully it got better. There was no more animal fighting and that scene was soon forgotten.
How long did it take them to figure out shadow mode?
The morning after the kid dug Atom up from the junk yard they discovered his shadow mode capability and even commented that this is pretty rare.
So why, why did it take them fights upon fights to figure out that “Hey! We can use this shadow mode stuff!”. Not only does having the bot mimic your exact movements make reaction time much faster than trying to use a remote or give voice commands, but it’s also much more intuitive.
During the scene where the kid was working through the whole night I was fully expecting him to have been working on something to take full advantage of this - not a fricking voice controller.
What makes Atom unique, really?
He can take a hit or twenty. Atom can take a hit and just keep on going. I liked that they consistently played on this advantage throughout the movie.
He can mimic your movements with flawless accuracy. Nope, not important.
They didn’t explore Zeus' adaptive abilities
The big thing about Zeus, Atom’s main and final opponent in the movie, was his ability to adapt to other robots' fighting styles on the fly. They didn’t display an example of this at all in the final match of the movie - the big one - the one with Atom vs Zeus. One argument is that because Atom was directly controlled by a human (by shadowing his movements), Zeus was not able to predict Atom’s next attack. And I guess this is fine. However, Zeus still should have been shown trying, even if he failed. Besides, Charlie would still have patterns of his own - humans are predictable. As it stands, this fight just looked like any other fight in the movie - little robot against big robot. There was no unique challenge to Zeus.
I wish they made this more about Atom
Like I said above, this movie is not about robots. And I guess this isn’t a flaw per se, I guess the wanted it to be this way. I just wish they did more with Atom! I didn’t go there to see a feel good father-son relationship story, I went to see a robot story. I did not get a robot story.
One thing I did really like was the subject of Atom’s sentience. When Charlie’s son first finds Atom there’s a scene where Charlie talks to the robot, telling him that he knows he’s in there, assuming that Atom can secretly understand him. “Your secret’s safe with me”, he says. I think that’s really cool, especially when you think about it and logically understand that Atom is not a sentient bot. There’s no sort of AGI there - Atom is an old (second gen, I believe?) robot. It’s really cool how Charlie’s son thinks of him as a sentient being. Even Charlie himself starts to directly talk to Atom at some point, instructing him to “Look at me. Do you understand me? Look - at - me” (paraphrasing). That play on the characters' humanisation of Atom vs what Atom is (and is not) in reality was really cool.