Genre: Science-fiction, drama, action
Director/s: Shawn Levy
Running Time: 127 mins
Budget: $110 million
Released: 6 October 2011
Set in the near future, a down-on his-luck robot boxing promoter continues to sink in debt and misfortune until he reconnects with his 11-year-old son who finds an old discarded robot that proves to be a solid fighter in the ring.
It is a realistic and logical assumption that sometime in the future, robot warriors may replace their human counterparts in the world of combative sports, in the case of Real Steel, that sport happens to be boxing. The robots in question are not sentient, or autonomous and require human intervention in order to control them, usually in the form of a control pad. It is made quite clear in the beginning of the film, that Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman), an ex-boxer turned robot boxing promoter, has managed to get himself into an awkward position, he owes plenty people a lot of money and due to recklessness, over confidence or distraction, invariably his robots get destroyed, landing him further in debt.
When Charlie learns that his ex-girlfriend has died, he is required to attend a court hearing in order to determine the fate of his estranged son Max (Dakota Goyo). Max’s guardians wish to have full custody of the boy who Charlie sees as an opportunity to make some money, $100 000 to be precise, 50k in advance on the condition that Charlie looks after Max for three months while the foster parents go away on their second honeymoon. So reluctantly Max and Charlie are forced to interact, and after Charlie manages to waste $45 000 on a robot that he destroys due to recklessness, it’s off to the scrapyard as father and son search for some usable parts to repair the damaged machine and in doing so they get more than they bargained for in the form of an obsolete Generation-2 sparring bot that proves to be a formidable and resilient fighter.
The premise is interesting enough, without being overly original in that Real Steel plays out like a traditional David and Goliath tale, as the underdog – in this case a bot named Atom, fights his way to the world championships and eventually faces off against the undefeated champion – Zeus, the name seemingly a hats off to Rocky as in the first two Rocky films, the world boxing champion is Apollo Creed, Apollo being the son of Zeus in Greek mythology. These sort of stories of perseverance and defying the odds are always attractive, and though it’s nothing new, it’s always entertaining though from a logical standpoint, I couldn’t help but think that these robots could be used for more than just boxing. While I understand that robot boxing would be an extremely enjoyable activity to watch, what prevents these giant, powerful machines – who being controlled by man, hence allowed to bypass Asimov’s law of robotics from say, killing another person, being used for military application or simply robbing a bank? I realize that these factors are never covered in the film, and that it’s probably due to the focus of the film being boxing and the bonding of father and son, it just would have been nice to have seen some sort of contingency in place that would make the viewer believe that these robots were only capable of boxing (like if they were the size of Medabots it would be immediately obvious that these robots would be incapable of harming a human being) and what have you, but perhaps I’m nit-picking.
…what prevents these giant, powerful machines from say, killing another person, being used for military application or simply robbing a bank?…
Aesthetically, Real Steel looks fantastic, no expense was spared in bringing the robot warriors to ‘life’ with CGI on par with Michael Bay’s series of Transformers films. The CGI visuals seamlessly blend into reality, what bugged me though is that the robots seemed to be the only futuristic thing in the film. Real Steel is set in the near future year of 2020, what I found strange is that everything apart from the bots looked to belong to the contemporary world, and while I realize 2020 is not too far off, the technology exhibited for the robots definitely is, at least another 20 – 30 years away.
Real Steel is not an overly cerebral science-fiction experience, apart from the typical themes like the aforementioned ‘David and Goliath‘ aspect, the film also focuses on the bond of father and son, or rather the lack thereof, and as Charlie spends more time with Max, he learns to value the time spent with his son, essentially changing his world-view. The ‘son-teaches-father’ dynamic isn’t new to cinema and overall Real Steel is pretty straight forward and predictable, what saves the film however is the robots – the true stars of the show, who engage in combat in a spectacular fashion making the action sequences quite enjoyable. Overall, Real Steel doesn’t cover any new ground, but the robot battles are entertaining enough to warrant your attention, just don’t expect repeat viewing.