The time is the future. I’m guessing the near future because things don’t look all that different from the present and there aren’t any flying cars or food in pill form. One thing that seems to have changed, remarkably, is people’s primal urge to watch two grown men systematically turn each others faces into pudding by gently inserting their fists into them. In the film “Real Steel,” human boxing has been completely replaced by robot boxing. Yes, the premise is ridiculous but director Shawn Levy has managed to craft a rather enjoyable film out of it.
The film stars Hugh Jackman as Charlie Kenton. A down-on-his-luck former boxer (the human kind) who now ears a living by competing in underground boxing bouts and exhibitions (the robot kind). His ex-girlfriend dies, and he takes charge of his 11 year old son Max (Dakota Goyo). Charlie is no father-of-the-year and only agrees to take Max temporarily and only if he gets paid. Charlie wants his childhood friend Bailey Tallet (Evangeline Lilly) to take care of Max while he goes out on his bouts but Max, who is a huge fan of robot boxing, manages to find a way to tag along.
While breaking into a junkyard with Charlie to steal scraps for a new robot, Max finds an old discarded robot called Atom. Atom is an obsolete sparring robot which Max thinks can fight again. Through his tenacity he manages to convince Charlie to “train” & fight him. The story then progresses in predictable fashion with Atom, the underdog, overcoming steep odds to win in fights against much stronger foes and ultimately ends up challenging the robot boxing champion Zeus.
The film manages to make us forget it’s cliched veneer by giving us two lovable characters in Charlie & Max who manage to endear themselves to the audience with their performances and on-screen chemistry. Especially Dakota Goyo as Max. He manages to steal every scene he is in by his natural performance that feels so effortless for one so young.
Then there are the robots. Not autonomous, they are fully controlled via remote therefore it is hard to see them as characters in and of themselves. However, they look very good with top notch robot character design.
The robot bouts themselves are a thrill-a-minute, engaging and a blast to watch. Well choreographed and with exiting progression, they pull you in and you find yourself really getting into it. The special effects are seamless and immaculate and at no point do you doubt that these giant 8 foot robots are actually pounding on each other.
This is by no means a great film. After watching it, you will not be filled by a new sense of meaning for life. It simply offers some good clean fun to be had by all. Shawn Levy, who has previously done mostly comedies, shows he has a real penchant for directing action. Kids of all ages should enjoy Real Steel which packs a medium punch but it’s straight to the pleasure centre of your brain.