- Co-Produced and Directed by Shawn Levy
- September 6, 2011 (Paris) / October 6, 2011 (Australia) / October 7, 2011 (US)
- Based on the 1956 short story “Steel” by Richard Matheson
A former boxer must build and train his own boxing robot with his estranged son.
Real Steal is based on the 1956 short story “Steel” by Richard Matheson and was first adapted into a 1963 Twilight Zone episode called “Steel”. Ultimately this film is very different from that. At least in my recollection.
This version certainly deserves a great many Rocky comparisons. It’s about an underdog becoming a champion just by stepping up. But it’s also about a father and son meeting for the first time and bonding with the father finally growing into an adult. And while there are some action scenes in Real Steal it’s much more of a drama with future sports in it than it is a sports film.
In this world human boxing has died out with Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots essentially taking the place of people because that’s where the money went. And given what we get in the movie it certainly works. It may sound silly but they make the idea of robot boxing work.
Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is not only a deadbeat dad but a bit of a loser who does have boxing talent in both versions of the sport but because he is shortsighted and doesn’t think ahead he just keeps scheming to get ahead and is never really being able to achieve that. Into the mix comes his estranged son Max (Dakota Goyo) whom he has never met. They are thrust together because his former girlfriend has passed. From what? Tragic movie illness.
Bailey Tallet (Evangeline Lilly) is a boxing gym owner and essentially the levelheaded girlfriend who is capable of putting Charlie in his place and keeping him on the right track. She’s the one that keeps bringing him back to reality and her relationship as she describes it with her father often parallels the relationship Charlie has with his son Max. Why do you need a specifically boxing gym in a future without boxing? Don’t know.
Not only is Charlie an underdog but so is the robot referred to as Atom. They make it clear this is a piece of crap that shouldn’t be worth anything, but the story is about showing people that doubt you that you’ve got it. It’s about standing up to the challenge and completing the task even if you are not victorious. And that is most certainly like the original Rocky. Victory is not always achieved by winning the contest. Victory can be achieved by simply giving your best effort in whatever task you put before yourself or life puts before you.
Despite being a near future bit of science fiction, Real Steal is also about a relationship between a father and son with both maturing as they get to know each other. Charlie matures into an adult. Max comes to term with the death of his mother and by doing so leaves childhood behind.
It parallels Rocky in that the Apollo Creed equivalent of the Zeus unit feeling their pride pricked and feeling a need to face off against Atom the Robot in order to prove that they are indeed the best and that Atom is not despite public perception to the contrary. The thing is unlike Rocky they don’t do too much to build the rivalry. The story focuses much more on Charlie and Max than it does on the growing negative feelings from the Zeus camp. The film could’ve certainly benefited from delving a little more into that.
The climactic fight is much more of a victory for Charlie than it is for Atom. Atom has a shadow function that allows him to mimic a human’s movements. Charlie, a former boxer, is the one actually controlling the fight and in the finale must do so via the shadow function. Not only does it prove that Atom is not a piece of junk, but that Charlie is a superior boxer.
I would not expect this level quality from Shawn Levy. I’m not too familiar with the entirety of his filmography but given the Night at the Museum films I wasn’t expecting something as well done as this. I’m talking from a story and direction standpoint. And it definitely has an emotional impact.
Visually this movie looks great. They use just enough CGI position to drive the point home but not so much that you were overwhelmed and realize just how fake it all looks. It is my understanding that often (but not always) the robots you see are very real and not works of CGI. The use of as much real stuff as possible keeps you hooked.
As sports dramas go Real Steel is a very good one. It has emotion and some action and a finish that manages to make you feel good. If you’re a fan of science-fiction or good drama this is definitely worth looking at!