‘Set in the near future, where robot boxing is a top sport, a struggling promoter feels he’s found a champion in a discarded robot. During his hopeful rise to the top, he discovers he has an 11-year-old son who wants to know his father.‘
It seems like an odd premise; take a story by Richard Matheson, strip out everything but the overarching sci-fi concept and shove in a father/son bonding plot together with a classic underdog story. On the surface, it shouldn’t work. But Real Steel is one of the big surprises of the year.
I went into this movie with very low expectations. I was hoping that somebody other than J.J. Abrams could make a family friendly science fiction movie, but the trailer certainly didn’t give me a positive impression. Thankfully, Real Steel pulled me in right from the start and kept me engaged for the next two hours. There are two stories running parallel throughout the film, the first is the same story that we’ve seen in every boxing movie since Rocky, and the second is a fairly standard tale of an estranged father and son bonding over a common interest. Where Real Steel shines is in the way it ties the two together, and makes them feel fresh by throwing them into a flashy near-future where people pay good money to watch robots beat each other up.
The world that is created in the film seems like it could be just around the corner. The idea that audiences grew tired with the ‘tame’ nature of boxing and demanded more and more carnage isn’t that hard to believe, and the world of robot boxing seems like a natural extension of a sport that is as much about the spectacle as the actual competition. The flashy nature of boxing fits Real Steel perfectly, and the believability of the world gives the stock standard story much more weight than it would normally have. There are no real surprises in the movie, but it is executed so well that I really didn’t mind. While I felt that there could have been a little more effort to conceal the obvious plot points, overall everything fit together nicely and I never found myself getting bored.
The other thing adding depth to the simple story is the great performances turned in by all the actors. Hugh Jackman perfectly combines the deadbeat Dad/nice guy duality of his character and sells it so well that we are still interested in his inevitable redemption. Dakota Goyo manages to be a precocious smart alec without being massively annoying, and the relationship between the father and son duo drives the film through its quieter moments. There are plenty of great cameos as well, but one character that felt really underused was Evangeline Lilly as Bailey, the love interest for Jackman’s Charlie. It seemed like she was going to be a big part of the movie, but she almost completely disappears about a third of the way in. It’s a shame really, she had some great chemistry with Jackman and it might have added a bit more to the story.
Contrary to the quick cut nature of the trailer, the direction of the fights in the movie is great and it feels like you’re watching a proper boxing match. Each robot is completely distinct, and we feel every blow as they pound on each other. The robots look fantastic, and while we obviously know that they are CGI, they look and feel real. The sound in the movie is fairly overwhelming, but that is part of the whole spectacle. This is a flashy sport movie, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything else.
Overall, it was great to be surprised by Real Steel. While it certainly isn’t a groundbreaking story, everything works really well and it will keep you entertained throughout. If you have kids, they will absolutely love this film and the inevitable toys that we’ll be seeing on shelves this christmas. This is a film that everyone can enjoy and well worth the price of a movie ticket.
What I Liked – Well written. Captured the spectacle of the sport. Good characters.
What I Didn’t Like – Love interest character fairly thin. Sometimes a little too predictable.
Rating – 4 out of 5 (Really Enjoyable)