Another Movie Review-ish Thing!

October 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

I saw Real Steel last night (on the 7th for all those who are still awake. To sleep with you!) and it was pretty awesome. Not that it didn’t have it’s faults, which it did, but overall, it was a solid movie.

A solid movie with Wolverine and fighting robots. 

See that other robot? Rock and sock the shit out of it.

Oh, and because I know you’re so excited to know, it’s exceptionally weak in terms of female characters. Not only does it fail the Bechdel test, I think the only times there are more than 1 female on screen at a time is when they’re at the boxing matches. Before getting to the violence, the situation with the woman in the film (because there’s really only one worth mentioning) is interesting. It’s Evangeline Lilly playing the rough-and-tough robot mechanic/boxing friend of Hugh Jackman’s lovable complete ahole. 

But don’t worry, fair readers, she’s actually not that strong. Not only is she basically wet for Hugh the entire movie (Seriously. I would be less crude, but it’s painfully obvious and frighteningly stereotypical), she plays the reliable stay-at-home girlfriend/love option to Hugh’s wanderer. It’s so bad that at one point, Hugh’s character slips into her room while she’s asleep, and full on spoons her.

And she smiles through the rape-cuddling. 

Now admittedly, they could have had sexual history from before (and it’s certainly hinted at), but I know precious few women who would be ok with someone sneaking into their room to inappropriately grope them while asleep.

I'm sorry, you apparently haven't met my fans.

But this is a common problem I’ve seen in Hollywood. Even “strong” women are only as strong as they need to be to convince people of it, and it’s dropped the moment they need to fall for a man. I don’t know what the problem is, but I think it’s the conflict between what people actually experience in a relationship (everyone has moments of weakness), how writers have to compress a complicated thing like a relationship into a 2-hour movie, and how they also have to cope with societal stereotypes. I think this leads to an attempt to portray females as strong but by necessity it’s temporary so that the male hero can “save the day.” In this case, with his biceps.

Don't worry ma'am, everything is under control. I even brought my attached human, just in case.

But I’m just pointing this out because it’s another case of hollywood doing something that we should be aware of. Sometimes (and I am not sure about this) we might just have to grin and bear it, and acknowledge that Hollywood isn’t in the business of portraying real life as it actually is. 

Yet, as a writer, I also have to face the fact that the stories we tell make us into the people that we are, and I don’t want people thinking rape cuddling is ok.

But the other thing that’s funny about the movie is the violence. It starts with the opening scene where a robot and a bull beat the tar out of each other. Yes, the first scene in the movie is animal cruelty in action. It was a well done scene, but at the same time I watched it wondering why this was considered a good idea. It’s like having a rooster fight a Cylon. Or a Stormtrooper fight an Ewok…

Nothing to see here, officer. Move along.

But that’s only an expression of the real root of the problem with violence in Real Steel, which is a problem shared with many movies (and video games. And sports. And people. And…). The problem, as Jackman’s character articulates, is that humans like violence. He explains to his son that in the beginning, the robot boxers used to look like humans. That changed, however, when the promoters realized that the crowds wanted more and more violence, and making them look non-human helped that.

Yes, the character actually says people wanted to see the robots “killed” in the ring. What’s more, they didn’t want them to look human aside from the basics (two arms, two legs, bipedal, etc).

Sound familiar?

I'm sure I have no idea what you're implying, sir.

What is the role of violence in Real Steel’s world? It’s entertainment for, quite literally, the whole family. It’s not questioned, and it’s certainly celebrated. While on the one hand it’s somewhat admirable that the characters can say, “look, we admit that we love violence, but we found a way to make it perfectly controlled. No humans are hurt, no-one’s messed up by inflicting pain for a living, and we all get to go home happy.”

Except that there’s still the problem of needing to vent that drive for violence and the insufficiency of outside control. I think that all humans have a inner lust (that’s not the right word, but it’s an apt word) for violence that comes from our carnivorous instincts. It’s just a part of being human to have the capacity to brain something with a rock or stab it with a piece of wood.

But acknowledging the human drive to violence means controlling it (or not. This is how Vikings are born, Timmy). This is not so easy, and as any enemy of Abstinence-only birth control will tell you, trying to cut it out completely rarely works. Control, in a very zen-like way, does not come from the outside, through the laws and rules of the Robot Boxing League, but from inside.

“There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment. A man’s whole life is a succession of moment after moment. There will be nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue. Live being true to the single purpose of the moment.” Yamamoto Tsunetomo 

I like this quote because it reminds us that life is like building  a bunch of sand castles. Many, perhaps all, will get knocked down, but the kid who’s busy building them isn’t watching the tide come in. He’s trying to figure out how best to get the sand in the bucket, or how best to realize the vision he sees in his head. The fact that this quote is by an actual Samurai also helps the whole thesis thingy. I should probably get back on topic right about now. Ahem, the point of the quote is that the fighter, and by extension everyone, has to control themselves every moment of their life. It’s not barely restraining our instincts with metal rope and robot proxies, it’s about living in the moment. Is it a violent moment? Then be violent. Is it not a violent moment? Then please, do not punch the goddamned bull.

In this case, while the only samurai in the movie is brutally decapitated, the true purpose and enlightened application of violence in Real Steel is only realized when it’s performed by a human. I won’t spoil the ending, but for some reason Jackman’s character, an ex-boxer, has to fight again. This time, it’s his choice, soberly made, and driven by the attempt to apply that violence towards a noble goal that improves both him and the world around him. It’s not for profit, and it’s not for revenge or the drive to reclaim past glory. It’s, well, about love. And as ironic as the idea of using violence to further love sounds, it certainly makes sense to someone who’s ever fought for something before.

The movie is certainly not about Jackman’s character taming the violent impulses that he has and channelling his energy into improving the world around him, but it just might fit. And that’s certainly better than a rash embrace of violence just because it’s fun to watch stuff get punched a lot.

But I won't lie, it is kind of fun.

N.B. – I don’t mean that violence is wrong and bad and should never be used as a source of either entertainment or improvement. Far from it. But violence certainly is something that should be carefully considered and approached with conscious awareness.

N.B.B. – It really was kind of weird, with the whole rape-cuddling thing.

N.B.B.B. – I know this isn’t how latin actually works. But I still need to give you my rating for Real Steel!

John’s Verdict: Go pay money to see this movie. Yes, it has real flaws that I didn’t talk about here (but luckily for you, MovieBob does!), but in the end, it’s a solid movie that’s fun to watch. However, as it’s still a sports movie at heart, I would ask that you all cheer “RUDY! RUDY!” at the end. Trust me, it’ll make sense.

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