Simply put, the Shawn Levy-helmed Real Steel is a mash-up of the plots of two Sly Stallone vehicles, Rocky and Over the Top. Which is basically the underdog fighter who has to deal with his relationship with his estranged son. Only difference is instead of boxing or arm wrestling, it’s robot boxing.
Let’s pause for a while. Robot boxing? Why would that even become popular? I mean who really cares about two robots duking it out – there’s no pain and no blood – which is the usual attraction of physical contests, dating back to the age of the gladiator – so I had a hard time swallowing the main premise of Real Steel, that robot boxing is a popular sport in the time the movie is set in – the near future (as usual).
Ignoring that critical flaw, this movie is really a top notch sob-fest, an emotional manipulation from start to finish. The plot is simple enough.
Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is a former boxer now working in robot boxing and is basically down on his luck. His various robots lose fight after fight and he is heavily in debt. His main source of comfort is his late coach’s daughter Bailey (Evangeline Lilly) and even her support is waning. Then out of the blue, Kenton is informed that his former girlfriend has died and he needs to sign over custody of his 11 year-old son Max (Dakota Goyo) to Max’s Aunt Debra (Hope Davis) and her wealthy hubby Marvin (James Rebhorn). Naturally, Kenton is only concerned about one thing (money) and agrees to do so for the sum of $100,000. However, in the meantime, Kenton has to ‘babysit’ Max for the summer holidays whilst Marvin and Aunt Debra vacation in Europe.
Of course, you already know what will happen next. By sheer coincidence, Max is a massive robot boxing fan and through a series of more coincidences, Max acquires a robot called Atom which together with Kenton, somehow becomes a contender in the major robot boxing league! Thus, over the course of this time, the father and son begin to bond. Cue a dramatic setback – Kenton is beaten up by creditors in front of Max – and Kenton decides he cannot maintain a relationship with Max anymore. This does not last long so the duo are reunited just in time for Atom to face Zeus, the robot boxing world champion in the final fight sequence.
It’s every fight movie cliche played out over the course of the final 30 minutes but director Levy squeezes out numerous tear-jerking moments which ultimately do not amount to a hill of beans. Don’t get me wrong, if you park you intellect to one side for the duration of the movie, Real Steel can be an emotionally satisfying experience.
And with the film coping the ending of Rocky completely, can we expect Real Steel II to be far behind for the rematch of Atom v Zeus? Pure rhetorical question, I must stress.