Carnage is what crowds want when they come to the sports arena, according to one fight promoter (Anthony Mackie). And when humans can’t provide enough of that, technology fills the void.
Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is one of those has-been human boxers in a world where robots have taken over the ring. Now instead of strapping on sparring gloves, he travels around the country stopping at seedy carnival venues, underground fight clubs and anywhere else he can secure a match for his robots. Unfortunately, his ego and ambition for money means he’s not particularly careful with his machinery. As a result he talks too big and takes on too much. Then he hauls the broken bits back to Tallet’s Gym where he hopes Bailey Tallet (Evangeline Lilly) can piece the metal fighters back together for the next match.
Just as his unpaid debts and broken promises start to catch up with him, he learns he has an 11-year-old son (Dakota Goyo). The boy’s aunt (Hope Davis) is eager to adopt the child. However her husband (James Rebhorn) wants one last childless summer in Italy before he commits to parenthood. Never one to overlook an opportunity to secure some cash, Charlie makes an under the table deal with Marvin. In exchange for $100,000 cash, he’ll take Max for eight weeks.
Reading his dad for what he is, Max exhibits his own proclivity for getting his way once they are together. After digging an old sparring robot out of the junkyard, Max insists on accompanying his father on the fight circuit.
Most of the movie’s action takes place inside the boxing arena where mechanical combatants, controlled by humans, brutally beat one another. During the fights, limbs are severed, heads are decapitated and fluids spill out of the damaged robots. Occasionally, however, human blood is spilt, like when a debt collector (Kevin Durand) shows up to beat overdue payments out of Charlie. But along with the action, the film portrays some positive character development as Charlie and Max’s shared interest in robots contributes to their growing relationship.
Set in the not so distant days ahead, the film hints at the moviemakers’ vision of the future. Wind turbines dot the landscape, electronics supersede current technology and an abandoned zoo serves as an amphitheater for back-alley battles. (Automobiles, on the other hand, look surprisingly similar.)
Unfortunately, the creative concept of the script, which brings the game of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots to a whole new level of intensity, gets a foul for brief alcohol depictions and plenty of cursing by adults and youth. Considering the age of the child protagonist and his appeal to young viewers, it’s too bad film editors couldn’t have punched out of few of the profanities in favor of a more family friendly bout.