Real Steel

by Alan Rapp on October 7, 2011

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Real Steel
  • IMDB: link

real-steel-posterReal Steel is a rather simple story about the connection between a father and son mashed up with a movie adaptation for Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. It’s not going to wow you, but it’s a farily harmless family film with better than average effects, its share of charm, and lots of fightin’ robots!

In the not-too-distant future boxers have been replaced with robots. Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman), a former fighter who never got his shot, now works the edges of robot boxing in state fairs and underground clubs. Charlie barely makes by, owes markers to everyone he knows, including the daughter (Evangeline Lilly) of his former trainer, and has just been given the responsibility of raising a son (Dakota Goyo) who he has never bothered to get to know.

Seeing how the boy’s aunt (Hope Davis) wants to adopt him Charlie makes a deal with her husband (James Rebhorn). For $100,000 he’ll take Max (Goyo) for the summer and then sign him over afterwards. In Charlie’s mind, everyone wins. And so father and son hit the road with Charlie’s new robot in tow.

As you might guess things don’t go smoothly at first, inside or outside the ring. When Max rescues an old sparring robot from a junkyard the pair begin to work on him together. As the robot defies early expectations the pair begin to reconnect and get to know each other as Max learns about his dad and Charlie learns, for the first time, what it means to be a father.

Schmaltzy? Sure. In fact the climax features extended shots hamfistedly reminding the audience of what lesson each character has learned over the course of the film. Subtle isn’t Real Steel‘s strong suit. (It is a movie about giant robots beating the crap out of each other.) However, that doesn’t mean it’s all bad. Although the script plays it safe, the film delivers on both the father/son tale as well as that of the underdog making good. (And the robots aren’t too shabby, either.)


Jackman is well-cast in the charming but untrustworthy Charlie. There’s a great scene early on where Charlie turns on the charm to get Bailey (Lily) to help him. That scene, mixed with Charlie’s unfocused early screw-ups with his robots, let you know all you need to who this character is as the film begins. Charlie isn’t a bad guy, but he’s gotten by for most of his life on charm and luck. I found Goyo resemblance to Jake Lloyd a little disconcerting early on, but he holds his own with Jackman on-screen.

Aside from being a somewhat obvious homage of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, the film is actually an adaptation of Richard Matheson‘s short story which the author had previously adapted himself as a Twilight Zone episode. As you might expect, this version of the story is far less bleak.

Real Steel is part Rocky and part Over the Top… plus giant freakin’ robots that beat the hell out of each other. Is it a great movie? No, not really. However, it is a passable flick with some good moments and definite charm. Young kids are going to adore this movie and most likely look back on it with the same nostalgia I remember The Last Starfighter. Hugh Jackman, fightin’ robots, and a family-friendly tale? For an early Fall release you could do a lot worse than give Real Steel a shot.

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