I kid you not. Real Steel is one of the top 5 movies of the year. It’s better than The Help. That said, I remind you: I am a sucker for boxing movies. Rocky is one of my favorite movies of all time. And I liked the last two Rocky films, too.
So Real Steel is tremendously good fun. If you don’t like it, you are a cynical, heartless fogie who deliberately steps on ants and other innocent critters. And you’re unpatriotic.
Here’s a preview:
Now the deets:
Released October 7, 2011
Written by John Gatins, Dan Gilroy, and Jeremy Leven
Directed by Shawn Levy
Starring Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lily, and Anthony Mackie
* * * * *
Real Steel is no Transformers movie. In those Michael Bay spectacles, the characters are conveniences and the robots are contrivances used to set up absurdly loud and vivid battle scenes. In Real Steel, the robots are essentially avatars for the humans controlling them. And in truth, Real Steel is a real movie filled with real-seeming people who are working through real conflicts.
Hugh Jackman plays Charlie Kenton, a former boxer with some emotional baggage connected to a fight where he may or may not have given up. He now spends his days touring around with a junky robot trying to make ends meet by getting his robot boxer into the ring with other robots. Or in one case, a bull.
But Charlie is easily distracted and is without purpose, so he loses it all on one final wager. Now the person who beat his robot is after him and is looking for blood. Charlie is desperate.
Next, toss in news that a previous girlfriend of his had died, leaving a son named Max, played by Dakota Goyo. Charlie has to show up in family court and sign away custody of the kid to his ex’s sister, played with a nice touch by the lovely Hope Davis. But Charlie sees an opportunity to make some cash and get his feet back under him, and through a complicated deal, he ends up with Max for the summer as well as a pocketful of cash.
Charlie plans to leave Max with his childhood friend Bailey, played by Evangeline Lilly. There is clearly an attraction between Charlie and Bailey, but, of course, they fight it. Max, however, has other ideas. He is a devotee of robot boxing and is also very handy with the technical aspects of robot building and maintenance. Through some determined negotiation, Max is brought aboard for a robot boxing tour.
Max and Charlie end up at a robot junkyard and through some genuinely tense events, find an old sparring robot. It has a shadow mode wherein it will mimic the movements of a person and it can take a serious beating. Its name is Atom.
Max feels a connection with the robot and cleans it up. He convinces Charlie to put the robot in a fight and Atom comes out pretty well.
Thus begin several journeys. First, the journey of Atom from lowly fights to the biggest stage in robot boxing: a bout with reigning champion Zeus. Second, the journey of Charlie to become a responsible and self-sacrificing father. Third, the journey of Charlie and Max toward each other as father and son. And fourth, the journey of Charlie and Bailey towards mutual admiration and love.
External conflicts, internal conflicts, victory against overwhelming odds, genuinely engaging tension in robot boxing matches, father and son dynamics, and a convincing group of bad guys– all with a satisfying climax where the bad guys get theirs and the good guys achieve the right victories. How could this movie not be good?
The emotional depth is brought into the film by a deft script and some very solid performances by both Jackman and the lad, Dakota Goyo. Jackman shows real levels here as he does not usually have the look and body language of a jerk and layabout. He is quite convincing. His journey to overcome his demons lends serious emotional.. well.. punch to the climactic scenes. Dakota Goyo has an unusual name and an unusual talent.
I dearly loved this movie. As mentioned, I adore boxing movies. When you’ve got a father-son relationship thrown in along with some serious underdog issues, I’m pretty much a lock. But Real Steel is so heartfelt and so tightly made, with a very sympathetic robot in Atom, that it earns my fanhood. Spielberg, who produces, has a real knack for crafting nonhumans into creatures that humans want to hold close to their hearts. Watch for the moment where Atom seems to notice himself and has a moment of introspection. This is where the sequel begins.
Real Steel begins at #4 on my movie rankings for 2011. It is there because of the way it affected me. I don’t know if it will affect you in the same way, but it’s a must-see for the year. Great soundtrack, too.
Content warnings: Some rough language, a meaningful kiss and flirting, and plenty of robot violence. One scene of human fighting.
Writing: 5 Acting: 5 Overall: 5
Don’t believe me? See if my review matches those on Rotten Tomatoes.
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