Real Steel, the Shawn Levy robot boxing film starring Hugh Jackman, holds up beautifully as the film celebrates ten years since its release.
Real Steel is a very different film than Warrior, which came out in August 2011. And yet, both films deal with families and fighting. In this instance, this film is about an estranged father and son coming together over robot boxing. They don’t always see eye to eye but boxing has a way of bringing them together. In the film, human boxers are replaced by robots in 2020–we’re already past that window and I’m not seeing any robot boxing matches on ESPN for what it’s worth.
When we first meet Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman), he’s on the verge of learning that his ex-girlfriend is dead. But wait, there’s more. He essentially signs over the custody rights to his son, Max (Dakota Goyo), but not without a catch. A catch that sees him take care of Max while Debra (Hope Davis) and Marvin (James Rebhorn) are traveling with their friends in Italy. At first, Charlie wants Max to stay with Bailey Tallet (Evangeline Lilly), the daughter of his former coach. Max, however, wants to go on the road with Charlie.
During this time, the two bond over robot boxing. Charlie is a bit more ambitious and so his newly purchased Noisy Boy ends up getting crushed on the headlining card. Scavenging for parts, they end up finding a sparring bot, Atom. Max has more faith than Charlie does and it’ll come to pay off by the end of the film. The People’s Champion as we come to know him.
Atom has the type of fight in him that you only see in sports movies. A cliché, sure, but it’s one that has us rooting for him to win in match after match. After a batch of small matches, they get offered a spot in a World Robot Boxing match. The little sparring bot that could! What changes for Atom is when Max gives him Noisy Boy’s vocal-respond controls. He already has a shadow function, which comes in handy later on when Atom takes on Zeus. The fight lasts more rounds than any of us could possibly imagine. Ultimately, the decision falls in the hands of the judges much to our dismay.
For a science fiction film, Real Steel never feels too futuristic. Instead, it feels like something that could take place right now. All you need to do is look at the state fair settings. It gives off a vibe that other dystopian sci-fi movies don’t. A vibe that is beautifully complemented by Danny Elfman’s score. Elfman’s score lends the film exactly what it needs. There might not be a theme on the nature of Rocky but it’s a beautiful score that serves the film.
The film earned an Oscar nomination for its visual effects and rightfully so. Between the animatronics and the motion capture technology, the work here is stupendous. Real Steel would fall to Martin Scorsese’s Hugo come Oscar night but it wasn’t for the lack of effort. This film goes above and beyond to depict the world of not only the underground boxing matches but the big league fights as well. Atom vs. Zeus? We’re talking about a David vs. Goliath matchup here but the end result is a cinematic fight for the ages. I could make the obvious “Not since Rocky” remark but I won’t.
While doing press with outlets like Inverse and ComicBook for Free Guy (releasing October 12 on home video) this summer, Shawn Levy said that there are talks of a sequel. Nothing is officially greenlit but it’s exciting to think about Levy teaming up with Hugh Jackman and Ryan Reynolds on the film. Hollywood, please make this sequel happen!
I love a good sports movie but this is more than just a sports movie. Yes, there’s the David vs. Goliath angle to the film but it’s more than that. There’s an actual heart to the story driving the film’s emotional plot–give credit to filmmaker Shawn Levy because he knows his way around the characters. Real Steel may be a science-fiction sports movie but the heart of the story comes through the family drama.
DIRECTOR: Shawn Levy
SCREENWRITER: John Gatins
CAST: Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lilly, Anthony Mackie, Kevin Durand, Hope Davis, James Rebhorn, Karl Yune, Olga Fonda