The writers behind Real Steel propose that boxing at some point in the next decade will become too dangerous for humans to get into a ring and punch each other. I would assume by then the MMA will have to turn into Fight Club. Instead audiences will become engulfed by dueling Transformer-like robots controlled by programmers outside the ring.
Following the Night at the Museum flicks, Shawn Levy directs another special-effects filled fantasy featuring a lacking father trying to rebuild a relationship with his young son. Shedding his claws for joysticks, Hugh Jackman enters as Charlie, a down-on-his-luck former boxer looking to settle major financial debts with the wrong people by purchasing fighting bots and betting on them in low-key fights. Complicating his lifestyle on the road is his 11-year-old son Max (Dakota Goyo). After the sudden death of Max’s mother, Charlie has to sign over parental rights to the boy’s wealthy aunt and uncle. Without caring anything for the boy, Charlie agrees to giving up custody for $50,000 in a secret deal with Max’s uncle. The catch: Charlie has to agree to look after Max for the summer while his guardians are out of the country. The stubborn father and willful son have no interest in each other, and yet have their love for boxing in common.
Charlie invests his money in a famous Japanese boxing bot that ends up getting demolished in its first fight. Looking in junkyards for scrap parts, Max discovers an outdated sparring robot named Atom. Max gives Atom a thorough tune-up and discovers that it has a rare shadowing feature that allows the robot to mimic his operator’s movements. This gives Atom the ability to be trained by both Max and Charlie and store real boxing maneuvers and moves. The father-son duo start earning quick cash as Atom proves to be a worthy opponent in the ring, scoring several unlikely wins that leads to a title shot against the undefeated world champion robot. Max bonds with Atom, and ultimately and more importantly with his father. Thus Charlie ends up with a comeback shot with Max while their bot fights for the title.
Levy throws Rocky, Over the Top, Transformers, and a giant bottle of syrup into the blender to deliver a film built entirely on formula and familiar beats. I was surprised I didn’t find the film’s recipe on the back of my ticket stub. The characters laugh on cue, cry on queue, and the movie practically invites audiences to stand up and cheer by the end credits. But you know what? I didn’t care. Both Jackman and Goyo create a believable relationship onscreen making Real Steel the perfect movie for fathers and young sons, complete with impressive visual effects that have hulking metal clamoring for our entertainment. Levy’s effects team surpasses the destructive mayhem of Michael Bay’s Transformers as far as convincing robots go. The bots of Real Steel have weight to them. They’re affected by gravity. I was thoroughly impressed and believed these boxing matches even if I didn’t believe in them. This is fantasy, and in a world of virtual gaming, any boys under 12 years of age will be loving Real Steel to the last bolt. And I bet their fathers might have just as much fun.