Real Steel is an emotional father /son bonding film filled with giant boxing robots. The film’s strength comes from the stellar CGI that makes the robot boxers seem very real and the charisma of Hugh Jackman – who is charming and loveable even while selling his son.
Based on the Richard Matheson (I Am Legend) short story “Steel,” the film was directed by Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum). It features a screenplay by John Gatins (Coach Carter) with story by Dan Gilroy (The Bourne Legacy) and Jeremy Leven (The Notebook).
It features a great cast including Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lilly, Anthony Mackie, Kevin Durand, Hope Davis, James Rebhorn, Marco Ruggeri, Karl Yune, and Olga Fonda.
Set in the future where human boxing has been replaced by robot death matches, the film follows former boxer Charlie Kenton (Jackman) as he travels the road with his boxing robot. Charlie is pretty much a loser and takes whatever gig he can find for his robots. Far from the bright lights of the league matches, he basically fights his robot at county fairs and local fight clubs.
After his current robot gets destroyed by an angry bull (which also puts Charlie in debt to the rodeo promoter), Charlie is forced to find a new robot. Unfortunately, he is also completely broke. He also receives news that custody of his son Max (Goyo) is about to be granted to the boy’s aunt Debra (Davis) and her rich husband Marvin (Rebhorn). Marvin wants the boy, but also wants to spend the summer in Europe. Charlie makes a deal with Marvin to take care of the boy for the summer and not to fight the custody if Marvin agrees to pay Charlie $100,000.
Getting $50,000 upfront and with Max in tow, Charlie buys a new robot that has street cred and voice recognition capability. Charlie and Max head to Bailey Tallet’s (Lilly) gym to get to work on the robot and Charlie is hoping he will be able to dump the boy on Bailey – who is his quasi love interest and the daughter of the man who trained Charlie to be a boxer.
Max has other plans and demands to join Charlie on the road. Charlie’s luck doesn’t improve and his new robot is destroyed faster than the one with the bull. This leads Charlie and Max to hit the robot junkyard where Max discovers a sparring robot named Atom. The robot has a shadow function, and Max proves his robot skills by redesigning Atom’s software to include voice recognition.
Charlie agrees to get Max and Atom a fight, and quickly sees the robot’s potential after it starts winning battles that should have easily crushed it. It also doesn’t take long for the boxing league to notice Atom and Charlie soon finds himself in the big time taking on the world champion robot Zeus.
Zeus is a killer bot and Atom is clearly outmatched, but Max believes he can win because Max believes in Charlie. The film ends with an epic bout between the two robots and a final bonding moment between father and son.
Real Steel is one of those films that is easy to figure out exactly where the plot is heading and how it is going to end within minutes of the movie starting. However, the charisma of its star, the incredible CGI and the breakthrough performance of Goyo keep you entertained from start to finish.
Jackman (who was trained by Sugar Ray Leonard for the film) is believable in the role of a boxer and of a man struggling to become a father. At first, he is only out for himself and just interested in getting the next great bot. The back story hints that he failed as a boxer (though Bailey believes in him and even kept a scrap book of his fights), and is now determined to make it as a robot fighter. He sees Max more as a golden ticket than a son, and even considers selling Atom out from under Max.
Still, Charlie is a loveable and good guy. He might not show it at first, but he cares about his son – which is clear from the fact that he won’t sell Atom without Max’s permission. By the time the film ends, Charlie has come full circle as a character and earned the right to be called Max’s father.
If the film succeeds on the charisma of Jackman, it is also a success thanks to the pluck of Dakota Goyo. This kind of role could have easily become bratty and irritating with the wrong actor, but Goyo goes pound for pound with Jackman. He even manages to steal several scenes from the older actor. His interaction with Atom is believable and the young actor makes you want to stand up and cheer when he issues his challenge to Zeus’ owners.
The heart of Real Steel might belong to the father/son storyline, but the pure entertainment comes from watching those big bots smash each other to pieces and it is a credit to the film’s use of CGI that you actually start to care about Atom getting torn up in the matches.
This is great use of CGI blended perfectly to serve the greater story rather than taking over or killing it. The action sequences between the boxing robots are incredible, but the quieter scenes between Atom and Max or Charlie boxing with Atom are equally well made.
This is a film that is made for the Blu-ray format and looks incredible. From start to finish you will believe you are in a world of giant boxing robots and you will feel the punches Atom takes in each fight. In addition to looking and sounding great, the Blu-ray comes loaded with special features including deleted/extended scenes, a look at Sugar Ray Leonard’s involvement in the film and a look at the Charlie Kenton character. There is also a second Screen feature that allows you to explore more of the movie with Levy.
Real Steel is the perfect combination of stellar CGI boxing robots and the classic father/son bonding story. The film is familiar and predictable, but also completely fun to watch.
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