A gritty, white-knuckle, action ride set in the near-future where the sport of boxing has gone high-tech, "Real Steel" stars Hugh Jackman as Charlie Kenton, a washed-up fighter who lost his chance at a title when 2000-pound, 8-foot-tall steel robots took over the ring. Now nothing but a small-time promoter, Charlie earns just enough money piecing together low-end bots from scrap metal to get from one underground boxing venue to the next. When Charlie hits rock bottom, he reluctantly teams up with his estranged son Max (Dakota Goyo) to build and train a championship contender. As the stakes in the brutal, no-holds-barred arena are raised, Charlie and Max, against all odds, get one last shot at a comeback.
Adapted from the short story "Steel" by Richard Matheson: Print/Nook Edition
Set in the not-too-distant future, Real Steel depicts a world where boxing (and all other forms of human combat sports) has been outlawed. Not wanting to stop watching mutual combat, people have taken to building robots to fight for them. Hugh Jackman (Wolverine from the X-Men movies) is Charlie Kenton, a retired boxer who travels around with his fighting robot, entertaining people for money. After a couple of tough losses, Charlie finds himself with a pile of parts that no longer resembles a robot. Charlie also finds himself with temporary custody of his estranged son Max (Dakota Goyo, who played Young Thor in Thor), a boy he hasn't seen in so long that he doesn't even know his real age. Late one night, while spelunking through a junkyard looking for robot parts, Max finds a robot that, although old and undersized, is complete, and he takes it home. Charlie and Max find out that not only does the robot work, but it was built to take a beating. With the help of Charlie's lifelong friend and robot gym owner Bailey ("Lost"'s Evangeline Lilly), Charlie and Max restore the robot, name it Atom and set up an underground fight. Atom wins, leading to better fights and more wins. Atom gains a cult following, and works his way up the ladder, finally getting a shot at Zeus, the robo-boxing champion.
Real Steel is a tale of two movies. Based on the short story "Steel' by Richard Matheson (which was also the basis for a "The Twilight Zone"" episode of the same name), John Gatins' (Coach Carter) screenplay emphasizes the more human aspects of the story. Director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum) makes a double-edged film. On the one hand, there's the story of the fighting robots and Atom's rise to popularity in a sport that is just as much hype as it is skill. On the other hand, there's the tale of father and son reconnecting over a common interest that they had no idea they shared. It's a live action The Iron Giant; the robot side is all action and adrenaline, and the human side is heart-filled and sappy. Real Steel feels like a Disney flick for kids who like to blow up their toys with firecrackers. And it does have the feel of a children's movie - except that the phrase "kick his ass" is uttered more than once.
Designed by production designer Tom Meyer (Jonah Hex), the robots look a lot like human-sized Transformers, but they have a character of their own and they all but beg for a toy line. The robots are done with a mixture of animatronics for the scenes with human interaction and motion capture CGI for the battle scenes, and every sequence is convincing. The robots in the film are all controlled by the people in the film, so their actions are somewhat human, just more powerful and grand. The visuals reflect the human aspect of the machines without sacrificing the mauling and destruction.
A big part of what pumps the audience up for the robot fights is the music. Danny Elfman's compositions are the perfect robo-boxing themes - electronic jams that are too heavy to be techno but have too much groove to be heavy metal. They sound like World Wrestling Federation entrance themes; their job is to get the crowd excited and they succeed perfectly. And they'll get stuck in the audiences' collective head as they drive home.
The robot fights in Real Steel are awesome! Let that be said again - Awesome! The robo-boxing in the film is as much spectacle as it is sport, so the matches have a Las Vegas feel to them. Fast paced and hard hitting, the scenes really get the audience's blood pumping. The viewer has so much emotionally invested in Atom that they feel every crushing blow he takes. The crowd in the movie is screaming and the feeling is contagious - the end of every fight in the film is applause-worthy, and the climactic finish to the film is a stand-up-and-cheer moment. People who don't get excited when Atom fights are sorely lacking in patriotism and red-bloodedness.
October 7, 2011