"Real Steel" is awesome. I did not expect this going in. It is more than just "Transformers" meets "Rocky" doing "rock-um sock-um robots". I saw Hugh Jackman on Jimmy Fallon talk about what made him enroll in the project. "Real Steel" beyond the visually astounding CGI glitz and spectacle is the touching story of father and son defining love and respect. Again, not all that surprising given Steven Spielberg is Executive Producer. I'm a fan of Jackman. "Real Steel" may be his crossover hit that leverages his amazing gifts, playing a real guy, and not a superhero. He is awesome, as well. As Jackman describes "Real Steel" is about second chances, and redemption. Sure the story's climax pits underdog undersized fighting robot Atom against the ferocious indestructible Zeus. For me, "Real Steel" resonates in its human voice. Hugh Jackman as Charlie confesses to his son Max (scene stealing Dakota Goyo), "You deserve better
than me." Charlie asks Max, what he wants from him. Max answers, "I want you to fight for me!" Yes, "Real Steel" is fighting for love with everything you have. "Real Steel" is the real deal.
Set in the near future, 2020, human boxing is now obsolete. Robot boxing is the reigning form of entertainment that gives audiences the brutal carnage without damage to human life. Jackman is Charlie Kenton, former boxer now manager of second rate robot boxers. As "Real Steel" opens we witness his robot Ambush being demolished at amusement event at a county rodeo. The promoter Ricky (arrogant and sleazy Kevin Durand) knows Charlie from his boxing days. It turns out that Charlie owes some bad people a lot of money. Charlie returns home to his love Bailey (beautiful and radiant Evangeline Lilly) with Ambush in tow. Bailey confirms that Ambush is a complete loss and reminds Charlie that he has no money. Bailey owns her father's boxing gym in the city, and her father managed and trained Charlie when he was a contender. Bailey can't support Charlie and keep the gym afloat.
Charlie gets word that his old girlfriend died, and he now has custody of their son Max (Goyo). Irresponsible Charlie pretty much abandoned Max and his Mom when he was born. Max is 11 years old. Max's Aunt Debra (unforgiving and taut Hope Davis) wants full custody of Max. At a court hearing in Texas, loutish Charlie expresses no interest in being a father. Instead he brokers a deal with Debra's wealthy husband Marvin (decent James Rebhorn) to sign custody away for $100,000. Charlie needs the money to buy state of the art champion robot, Noisy Boy. The catch: Debra and Marvin are vacationing in Italy for 2 months. So Charlie gets to forge a relationship with Max, or not. Really for Charlie this means having Bailey look after Max. Goyo is natural as the smart cool gamer kid, who is a fan of robot boxing and street dancing. Seems he also inherits his Dad's stubbornness. He also insists on calling Jackman, "Charlie". Max knows he is being played at least initially.
Evangeline Lilly is beautifully understated and generative as Bailey. Too bad she isn't given more to do, as well. She immediately is drawn to care for Max, because he is like Charlie, but void of his painful disappointments. In a wonderful scene she tells Max about the man Charlie was as a boxer. Although, he was 25 and 19, unfortunately all by knockout, he battled toe-to-toe with the number 2 contender in the world. Her Bailey loves Charlie so much, and is waiting for him to step into the great man he can be. Jackman shades Charlie as a powerful man, who lives life fully, leaving nothing behind. Of course the glaring paradox is his relationship with Max. Screen and story writers John Gatins, Dan Gilroy, and Jeremy Leven strike the right tone with their "Real Steel", they know it's the people that inspire, not the stunning special effects. Director Levy touchingly focuses his narrative as well.
Charlie's "Noisy Boy" is torn to shreds in an underground cage match. While searching for repair parts in the junkyard, Max uncovers another robot, Atom. Atom is a second generation sparring bot, as Charlie points out to Max. So Atom is built to take punishment, not inflict it. Unfazed Max is determined to fight Atom in matches. Using his hacker skills Max merges Noisy Boy's voice command feature with Atom's Shadow Function—Atom can flawlessly imitate every movement he sees. Charlie trains Atom giving the robot the punching combinations and instincts of a human boxer. Charlie and Max leverage this advantage over other fighting bots, and soon find themselves fighting in the WRB, World Robot Boxing. The reigning WRB Champion is Zeus, technological marvel designed by creator Tak Mashido (elegantly arrogant Karl Yune). Zeus is programmed with artificial intelligence that learns from his opponents and evolves. Zeus's owner is the gorgeous and canny Farra Lemkova, well played by Olga Fonda. Human instinct and courage is matched against calculated advanced technology. This is Charlie's last shot at greatness, and his chance to come to terms with his past.
In "Real Steel" Sugar Ray Leonard trained Hugh Jackman to box, and was the technical adviser for robot boxing in the ring. Jackman looks quick, strong, and lean. Too bad none of his boxer action sequences made it into the final cut. All this gives "Real Steel" a visceral authenticity. The real deal is Jackman and Goyo's heartfelt chemistry. Yes, that they become father and son is predictable. It's supposed to. Jackman is powerful and compassionate as he believably transforms into the hero. Goyo is wonderful as the innocent kid, who just wants to believe in something. In a poignant scene with both as Charlie fails to protect Max, he whispers, "I'm sorry
" "Real Steel" at times is shamelessly hokey, and I loved it. In the end it is about love, and all that you fight for. "Real Steel" gets it right.