In a world where robot boxing is a hugely popular sport, struggling promoter Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is debt ridden and in trouble. His past comes knocking on his door after the death of his ex, in the form of an 11 year old son, Max (Dakota Goyo). But Charlie needs money more than he needs a surprise son, so he does a deal with the boy's aunt (Hope Davis) and uncle (James Rebhorn), to let them adopt him - at a price. That is, after the summer break, during which time Max turns out to be a handy associate in Charlie's trade, when he discovers a discarded old robot with serious potential as a boxer.
Review by Louise Keller:
When it comes to choosing roles for his illustrious career, Hugh Jackman doesn't repeat himself. In Real Steel, a sci-fi action drama, he plays a boxer turned hustler who runs gigantic steel robots in gladiator-esque robot boxing rings. Jackman's Charlie Kenton is a loner and the steely, mechanical robots that provide his livelihood are symbolic of the mechanical nature of his life which is devoid of sentimentality. Fighting for what you believe in is the theme of this hard-hitting, yet sensitive rousing story in which a man, a boy and a robot find a winning formula - for what matters most.
When we meet Charlie Kenton (Jackman), he is driving his monster truck to yet another town, another disastrous robot boxing match and another debt. It's easy to see how he continually finds himself submerged in debt: he keeps making the same mistakes. The catalyst for change comes in the package of his 11 year old son Max (Dakota Goyo, a standout), although it takes some time for the change to take place. Charlie has no qualms about showing his priorities, when he makes a financial arrangement concerning Max but quickly finds that he is not the only hustler in the family. It is Max who finds and rescues a broken down old robot called Atom with piercing turquoise eyes, which he takes on as his personal project.
Evangeline Lilly's xx has had Charlie as her personal project for years, since her boxer father trained him. The initial rough robot boxing matches are without rules and in the company of nasty types, the bots fighting until one bot is nothing but a scrap heap. Then winning becomes a reality with the word spreading about Atom, the old fashioned bot with heart, the cute youngster who makes him dance in a shadowboxing function and Charlie who instructs Atom through voice recognition.
Tension mounts in the lead-up to the climactic boxing encounter between Atom the underdog and Zeus, the imposing, undefeated techno-adroit champion that is prepared for all contingencies. The scenes as the two robots trade deafening blows before a roaring crowd of tens of thousands as metal smashes metal are thrilling indeed, the emotional power reaching its peak as the main game becomes Charlie, not the action in the ring.
Director Shawn Levy pulls everything together beautifully and Jackman triumphs again, just like Charlie, who shows us what real steel actually is.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Real Steel is the world of robot boxing, a turbo charged metallic machine version of human fisticuffs, in which humans supply the roar power and the machines do the gladiatorial grunt. It's a great premise, especially as writer John Gatins has enveloped the premise inside a father-son relationship story to give it texture and emotional oomph.
Nothing new in some respects, of course, and if you switched the machines for men it would seem old hat. But Gatins, and director Shawn Levy work wonders with the material, engaging us and thrilling us, drawing the odd tear and making sure the fight sequences are lethal.
These fights take place in various venues, from backstreet scruff joints to hidden 'zoo' venues and finally in a giant stadium filled with a massive, noisy crowd. The production design is outstanding, as is Danny Elfman's score.
With the powerful and humanistic robots, there's a touch of Terminator about the film, but Hugh Jackman is totally human, complete with flaws and charm. The anti-hero character of Charlie is entirely old school; a single man with a rustic lifestyle and an illegitimate child in his past, who eventually realises he needs to redeem himself.
Dakota Boyo is superb as the wise young Max, who is not only street smart when it comes to boxing bots but wise beyond his years - and certainly more mature than his father. Evangeline Lilly is memorable as Charlie's long suffering friend, support system and potential love interest, managing the boxing gym where Charlie got his start, thanks to her dad. Both these father figures give the filmmakers dramatic texture to work with - albeit from different perspectives: the terrific dad and the flawed dad.
The story cleverly interweaves the multi-layered bot boxing plot with the private dramas and the dialogue is above average, while the look of the film is spectacular - both in scale and in quality. The technical achievement is stunning: the fighting robots combine human traits with machine durability, but it's their fluid movements and striking features that are the most impressive.
The father-son narrative is given as much prominence as the muscular action story, giving the film a satisfying and entertaining tone - with a payoff.
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HUGH JACKMAN INTERVIEW
REAL STEEL (M)
CAST: Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lilly, Kevin Durand, Anthony Mackie, Hope Davis, Phil La Marr, Olga Fonda, James Rebhorn
PRODUCER: Shawn Levy, Robert Zemeckis, Susan Montford, Don Murphy
DIRECTOR: Shawn Levy
SCRIPT: John Gatins
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Mauro Fiore
EDITOR: Dean Zimmerman
MUSIC: Danny Elfman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Tom Meyer
RUNNING TIME: 127 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Walt Disney
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 6, 2011