Isn't Real Steel missing the point?

The trailer looks cool, the graphics look slick, and Hugh Jackman looks appropriately hard-bitten and muscled-up — but robot boxing looks like it combines robot fights and boxing in a way that seems to undercut them both.

"The human body can only take so much," says Hugh Jackman in the trailer of Real Steel. "But the steel never stops." Well, yeah. But isn't human ability pretty much the point of boxing and wrestling using only the human body? Boxing is a sport that takes training and talent, discipline and strategy. It's also a sport that's focused on people beating the crap out of each other. Each one of these things is part of the appeal. It's about watching someone trying to build themselves up and trying to keep someone else from tearing them apart. It's not just about the form. It's about the pain, the damage, and the endurance of both.


Meanwhile, robot battles - at least in reality - are about something else. Robots aren't constricted by pain. They're also not bound by the physical engineering of the human body. They can crawl, roll, and flip. They can have as many arms as their designers want, including a couple that have buzz saws or spikes attached to them. Robot fights aren't about endurance; they're about maliciously creative engineering.

Real Steel puts these two things together and comes up with . . . stress tests, basically. The robots don't feel pain. They aren't even sentient. There's no aspect of endurance or even real training. All their owners have to do is program them to punch as a frillion pounds per square inch, and they will. They don't have to build up muscle or ward off fatigue. What they also don't have is the off-the-wall creativity in engineering that other robots might have. No buzz saws or spikes or multiple arms in that trailer. The robots, instead of being some kind of weird free-for-all of form and function, are just big, shiny dudes.

I'm not saying that the movie couldn't be good, or even entertaining. It's just that the movie looks like it's taken the athleticism out of boxing and the madcap creativity out of robots. Humanoid robot boxers just seems to be a concept that annihilates itself.

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