Real Steel


Hugh Jackman as Charlie Kenton
Dakota Goyo as Max
Evangeline Lilly as Bailey Tallet
Kevin Durand as Ricky
Anthony Mackie
Hope Davis
Phil LaMarr as ESPN Boxing Commentator
Olga Fonda as Farra
David Alan Basche as ESPN Commentator
James Rebhorn
Jahnel Curfman as Panoramic Fight Fan
Karl Yune as Tak Mashido

Directed by Shawn Levy

Cool robot fights and great performances by Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo make “Real Steel” a movie that’s fun for both action fans and families.

In the year 2027, robot boxing is a major sport. Fans cheer as remotely controlled robots batter each other to pieces. But beyond the professional robot boxing circuit, there are the underground games. It’s here that down-on-his-luck former boxer Charlie Kenton can be found. Hopelessly in debt, Charlie takes battered robots and fights them in exhibitions for meager cash. Though he faces one tough break after another, he’s addicted to the sport and falling even further in debt.

Everything changes when Charlie is informed that his former girlfriend has died. Now the state expects him to take custody of his 11-year-old son Max who he hasn’t seen in years. Charlie reluctantly takes the kid but soon discovers that Max is just as hard headed as he is. Max also happens to be a major fan of robot boxing. So when the two stumble upon an old sparring robot in a junkyard, Max wants to refurbish it and start competing with it. Little does Charlie realize that the old piece of scrap will change everything for him and his son and rock the robot boxing world.

“Real Steel” is rated PG-13 for some violence, intense action and brief language.

What Worked:
Upon seeing the trailer for “Real Steel,” a lot of people dismissed it as looking stupid. I personally thought it was way too early to judge the film based on the trailer alone and I’m happy to report that my optimism was rewarded. “Real Steel” was a heck of a lot of fun. Take the relationship between the boy and the robot from “The Iron Giant,” mix in the underdog boxing of “Rocky,” then blend it with the CG robots of “Transformers” and you basically get “Real Steel.”

A big part of the fun of this movie is the robot boxing sport. The production designers have made a rich world full of colorful and creative robots. We then get to see that sport in a variety of settings. It goes from a Texas rodeo to a redneck underground game to the major leagues in massive sports arenas. If you love robots you’re gonna love this. “Real Steel” hooked me from the opening scene when we see Charlie’s robot fight a bull. I don’t care who you are – you’re going to love seeing a robot tackling a charging bull. From that moment I was absolutely sold for the rest of the movie.

So the real question is if the robots are not on the screen, is “Real Steel” still interesting? The answer is definitely yes. This is thanks to the great chemistry between Hugh Jackman as Charlie Kenton and Dakota Goyo as Max. Only Hugh Jackman could make a deadbeat dad likable. He’s irresponsible, selfish, and a bit of a con man, but you still like him. Jackman also sells the robot boxing with everything he’s got and it works. And when he’s paired on the screen with Goyo, the kid holds his ground with him. Dakota Goyo looks like he was cloned from Jake Lloyd, but he delivers a lot better performance. The kid has attitude. When Charlie leaves him to haul robot parts around, Max gets mad and pounds the crap out of Charlie as only an 11 year old could. And when it comes to talking trash at the robot boxing matches, Max delivers in spades. This quickly makes him an audience favorite when he could have very easily been a major annoyance. Hugh Jackman became a star when he played Wolverine. I see the role of Max as being a similar landmark role for Dakota Goyo. He has a promising career ahead of him.

A lot of director Shawn Levy’s movies have been entertaining on varying levels, but not really something I’ve felt compelled to revisit again. As soon as “Real Steel” was over, I wanted to see it again and take my friends along with me. He did a great job with the robot fight scenes, but he also did a great job of giving the film heart. He builds the relationship between the father and son well. He has a great moment in a major fight scene where, no matter how the fight ends up, you know Charlie and Max have won on a father-son level. It helps elevate the film above a simple movie with robots beating each other up to something more. I was also impressed with how every character that appeared on the screen, no matter how minor, had a moment to shine. Whether it’s some sassy girls mocking Charlie at the rodeo (who happened to be, I assume, Levy’s young daughters) or a punk robot operator talking trash, Levy makes sure the spotlight is shared.

I also have to give the “Real Steel” creators credit for getting Sugar Ray Leonard to consult on the boxing. That was a nice touch.

Finally, I’ll add that I was happy with the ending. I won’t spoil it here, but they managed to find a good middle ground between reality and a Hollywood ending that I thought hit the right note.

What Didn’t Work:
Any complaints I make about “Real Steel” are just nitpicking, but I’ll throw them out there anyway.

I’m a major fan of Danny Elfman, but his score on this movie did not sound like a Danny Elfman score. Most of the music is made up of existing songs sampled for the boxing matches. What’s left in-between is fairly generic. I’ve been hungry for an awesome film score for quite some time and was hoping Elfman could deliver here. This wasn’t it.

This is almost a perfect family film. I took a 9-year-old boy and a 6-year-old boy to it and they were absolutely enthralled. As soon as we walked out of the theater they started asking about “Atom” action figures. And I really enjoyed it as well, but there was a bit of language that I wouldn’t really want my kids repeating. I suppose DreamWorks and Touchstone were walking a fine line – they didn’t want the older demographic thinking this was a kiddie movie so they needed a PG-13 rating, but I think this film would have been just as effective if they toned it down a tad. I’m actually surprised Disney didn’t want this under their main label rather than under Touchstone.

Another minor nitpick – if two 1000 lb robots were pummeling each other into scrap, I wouldn’t want to be standing 5 feet away from them. I’d want to be behind some sort of bulletproof glass or something. Cinematically, seeing Jackman standing behind protective glass isn’t as visually interesting, so I understand the choice, but in a movie where so much is actually technologically possible this was one of the more unrealistic things that happened.

The Bottom Line:
“Real Steel” is definitely worth checking out. If you like robots or Hugh Jackman, you’re going to really enjoy this movie. It has ended up being one of my favorite movies of the year.