Former contender Charlie Kenton is down on his luck fighting in the robot boxing league, the world’s top sport after replacing human boxing. Add to that, his eleven year old son is dropped on him at the last minute which changes everything. After a crushing defeat, the father son duo discover a sparring-bot in a junkyard which may be the key to Charlie’s comeback, not only in the ring but also as a father.
From a story standpoint, REAL STEEL looked a bit dull to me. I loved ROCKY, all of them in fact, save for the fifth one which was brutal on just about every level. Sadly though, we live in a day and age where boxing films are tapped out. A few years back Channing Tatum came out with FIGHTING, and though I enjoyed the relationship between him and Terrence Howard the movie was pretty much a dud and rightfully so considering Tatum clearly can’t fight. Then we get THE FIGHTER and this year we got an upgraded MMA twist on the genre with the flashier WARRIOR. With REAL STEAL, you know exactly how this story will run, shot for shot as well as the conclusion after seeing the trailer, something I’m not fond of when I got to the movies, but with that in mind something strange happened…I had fun.
Like most underdog stories, REAL STEEL has miles of heart, sandwiched in between a cool cast with loads of chemistry and talent. First we have Hugh Jackman, who I personally think is the man. Most people know him as the X-man Wolverine but Jackman was able to surprise most of us when he branched off from that series and held his own in stuff like SWORDFISH (a guilty pleasure if ever there was one), THE PRESTIGE and the underrated THE FOUNTAIN. Jackman is more than just the adamantium laced Logan, and it’s his charisma as one of Hollywood’s coolest leading men that drives this simplistic story. Another thing I like about Jackman is that you can tell the man’s got a soft spot for kids as here, like in SWORDFISH, the subplot revolves around him fighting for a child’s affection, but in a good way that doesn’t come off as cheesy or Disney-ish.
The hardware in this film looks phenomenal, and let’s be honest here, what guy wouldn’t go crazy over gigantic robots squaring off toe to toe in the ring? I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it, but the adrenaline was definitely there. Jackman’s appearance on RAW was a joke, but I can see why the WWE were into it. Not only do these robots combine wrestling and grappling with boxing, the actual champion, Zeus, a metallic godlike specimen to behold, does a homage to the great Hulk Hogan with one of his signature stances, something that made me smile. The relationship between Jackman and Dakota Goyo (the kid who played young Thor) was touching and the fact that they let the kid dance it up with Atom the robot as their intro to the ring was fun to watch. The deadbeat dad story’s been done nearly as much as the underdog fighter but neither one felt tired here and that’s got to count for something.
REAL STEEL put up big numbers when I was expecting a first round knockout. And I know I’ve used the word “fun” in this review three times now, but that’s what sells this film, it’s a ton of fun. Using real boxers to help coordinate the fighting styles was a nice touch, and the whole futuristic concept of replacing people with machines isn’t so farfetched if you think about it. I remember how cool I thought that robot body guard in JUDGE DREDD was, and honestly, this flick’s robots look like they were designed with just that in mind. The whole using joysticks to control them felt a touch weak, but Jackman’s shadowboxing techniques made up for it. Also, it was cool to see Evangeline Lilly yet again, but Kevin Durand’s character felt like he didn’t belong, despite the fact that he no doubt got the gig because he’s starred in both LOST and X-MEN ORIGINS WOLVERINE with both Jackman and Lilly. If you’re looking for a great way to fill up an October weekend, this is well worth checking out in theaters.