Don't let the giant metal boxing robots in "Real Steel" fool you. This movie is no "Transformers." Instead, it's actually a sweet family film, although if a real boxer telegraphed his punches this obviously, he'd be on the mat before round one got rolling.
In a future where robot boxing has replaced human fights, Hugh Jackman plays Charlie Kenton, an ex-boxer who now tries to book fights for whichever dilapidated 'bot he's lucky enough to be able to afford. Frankly, once we see how much money he owes and how he's still throwing down enormously stupid bets, we're shocked he has the money for even the junkiest robot.
When he learns that the 11-year-old son he's never cared about has lost his mom, he takes the kid in, but only because he can get some money from the boy's uncle in the process. The boy's not thrilled about Loser Dad either, but he is a fan of 'bot boxing, and when an abandoned robot carcass saves his life on a late-night junkyard run, he dusts it off and brings it back to life.
You don't need bionic eyes to see where this is going. The robot that was supposedly built as a sparring partner for other, better fighters wins hearts and bouts left and right, finally scoring a championship bout with the Apollo Creed of the robot boxing world.
It's OK, though, that the destination is predictable, because the journey is enjoyable enough. Jackman plays Charlie as just enough of a jerk that we believe he's the kind of guy who'd essentially sell his son for the price of a robot, and he doesn't come around too easily, either. Evangeline Lilly (Kate from "Lost") is sweet and supportive as the owner of the gym where Charlie trains his robots, and Dakota Goyo is cute as Max the kid.
Some critics appear shocked by the entire concept of the film, discounting the idea that humans would want to gather and watch robots fight each other. As someone who saw the late, great show "Battlebots" in person, I can't get all snooty about that. Don't expect "Rocky," and bring a kid who's old enough to appreciate the film's message and not be scared by the robots. My prediction is that this film will be enjoyed by many more regular moviegoers than the early reviews would have you believe.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is TODAY.com's movies editor.