The Real Deal
It has to be the visceral effects of boxing that produces so many boxing movies. It’s the man-o-man, the ‘mano-y-mano’ of it all. Sometimes, it’s ‘good vs. evil’ or at least hero vs. villain. We have “Rocky,” “The Champ” and “Raging Bull” among countless others.
Add “Real Steel” to the list. This new movie is better than it appears. Seeing previews or commercials for it automatically makes one cringe because it looks to be a disaster going straight to DVD. But an intriguing story and decent acting make this one of the best in recent years. It may not be one of the Top 10 boxing movies of all time, but it is worth seeing.
The story is set in the near future where human boxing is outlawed, but robot boxing is all the rage. This alone is intriguing once you get past the obvious “Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots” reference. It takes the “Bot Battles” from cable TV to the next level, which fits for the near future. Humans control the action via remote control and the machines get beat up. In the world of ‘Real Steel,’ this is the boxing industry.
We find ex-boxer and now promoter Charlie Kenton struggling in that industry. He is always looking for the next ‘champion’ robot after spending a lifetime in the ring himself. The additional intriguing element is Charlie’s son, Max, a boy whose mother has died and has not known his father during his 11 years.
Sure; this element could be corny and stupid as all get out, but the script and acting make it real; as much as the boxing action among the robots. Of course, Max wants to know his father and has this rare opportunity before his aunt takes custody of him. And of course, the boy is also into robot boxing!
A very real and important part of the story is Charlie and Max’s relationship and new found bonding experience. Hugh Jackman, as Charlie, and Dakota Goyo, as Max, are great together in every scene. This is part “The Champ,” but delves deeper into the relationship.
The pair has a summer to bond and that includes Charlie’s latest (and greatest) robot prospect. Soon, Max has one of his own, a discarded ‘sparring bot.’ Max has caught the fever and wants to fight his robot, Atom. When Charlie reluctantly gives him the chance, the movie really takes off.
Writers John Gatins, Dan Gilroy and Jeremy Leven have crafted a layered plot which brings the father/son aspect into the world of boxing. We have the former girl- friend –Evangeline Lilly as Bailey Tallet – whose deceased father taught and managed Charlie and his career. She is trying to keep the old gym open and this allows Charlie a home base to operate his boxing promotions. The writers also had help as I will explain later.
Lilly, of ‘Lost’ fame, is good in this smallish role. She has that ‘feel’ of boxing daughter. She’s tough and proud yet she knows the importance of family and loyalty. Lilly and Goyo are also good in their scenes together.
Other actors include Hope Davis as Max’s well-meaning aunt Debra; and Olga Fonda as Farra Lewkova, the manager of champion robot, Zeus. There are other recognizable actors, which do a good job in their roles.
The other intriguing aspect is the actual robot fighting sequences. They are well done and recall action from “Rocky,” “Raging Bull” and “The Fighter.” Director Shawn Levy does a great job of interspersing the action and the drama. He also does a good action sequence. You’ll find yourself caught up in the fights, especially the climatic one.
This PG-13 movie is 127 minutes long and got the rating for some violence (really?!), intense action (Duh!) and brief language (well, of course!)
“Real Steel” had a budget of $80 million and made $27 million as the first place movie in its opening weekend. It will easily make its money back. As the tagline says, “Champions aren’t born; they’re made.”
The ending of this film is almost identical to “Warrior” of a couple weeks back. It ends with the principal actors leaving the ring with a song playing. In this case, it’s Eminem’s “Til I Collapse.” It is moving.
Another point of discussion is Charlie and Max’s last conversation in the film. Everyone wants to know what Charlie’s ‘secret’ is! It is simple: he loves Max but has spent a lifetime leaving ‘things and people’ that he doesn’t know how to say it until that moment. Max understands in a way that only an 11 year old can. It proves another movie saying, “Courage is stronger than Steel.”
Finally, the writers had help via Richard Matheson’s story “Steel” written in 1956 about a time when robots boxed and humans controlled them. It was made into a famous episode of “The Twilight Zone” in 1963. My hat’s off to a great story that inspired such a good movie!
No one will be throwing in the towel on this one………………………………………………………..