Review: Real Steel

Posted September 27th, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Real Steel will likely be described by many as “Rocky with robots” and that isn’t too far off from the central themes that drive the emotions and plot developments. What the film does really well though is balance a family dynamic with the robot boxing action – blending the typical inspirational sports story with a futuristic scenario and relatable characters. It’s brilliantly handled and leads to some of the most crowd-pleasing moments I’ve ever experienced in theater – creating the disctinctly rare desire to see it again and soon. 

The story takes place in 2020 and centers on Charlie (Hugh Jackman), a down-on-his-luck former boxer turned robot fighter who has to take care of his 11 year old son Max for the summer. The two come across an underdog in a “sparring bot” named Atom who they fix up, train, and fight as they climb the ranks into the established WRB (World Robot Boxing) league.

Though it started a little slow, in establishing the circumstances for Charlie, once Atom is discovered it picks up steam and delivers every step of the way. One of few things taken issue with is how he is handed over his son for the summer even though he never showed any capacity to take care of him despite having custody rights. Overlooking that though it made for the effective element of the two getting to know each other through their shared experiences and how Atom inspired something in them both as well as others. Bailey (Evangeline Lilly) anchors Charlie as a reminder of where he came from and that leads to additional pay-off at the end.

Pleasantly surprising is how restrained the futuristic elements are presented – everything was plausible and as though it could have realistically evolved out of today’s technology. The robots were certainly advanced but it was interesting to see how they had changed from generation to generation. The top dog in WBR is suitably intimidating as are some of the other foes met along the way. They basically have their own personalities.

The fights are exceptionally well choreographed and entertaining and that is probably due in large part to bringing in Sugar Ray Leonard to be a consultant on the boxing scenes. These are of course robots but given that they’re controlled by humans and in some circumstances regulated by league rules the fights don’t just make for a free-for-all but instead tell a story. That is especially important for how Charlie integrates some of his personality into Atom through the training and in-ring strategy.

I was completely invested in what was happening on screen. I can’t recall ever reacting in the manner that I did at this film for another – applauding and fist pumping at certain moments and cringing from the abuse dealt out during fight scenes. It was also quite funny throughout and it had an excellent score.

Full of genuine moments between characters, fantastic robot fighting sequences, and a good number of laughs – Real Steel will have appeal for all audiences. Far more than just a robot boxing film it generates some real emotion and is completely satisfying in its crowd-pleasing nature. Rarely do I make blanket recommendations but I will do so here. Real Steel is a must-see film. You’ll be missing out on a great experience otherwise.

Rating: ★★★★★

Real Steel is rated PG-13 and opens on October 7th.