Review: Real Steel


Directed by: Shawn Levy
Written by:John Gatins, Dan Gilroy, Jeremy Levin
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lilly, Anthony Mackie, Kevin Durand, Hope Davis
Released: October 6, 2011
Grade: A-

Real Steel is my kind of action movie.  The story is engaging, the characters are fun and the robots are freaking cool.  It has a spirit that is often lacking in CGI-laden action flicks.  I’ve even surprised myself by saying that.  I was sceptical when I first saw the posters and advertisements while on holidays in the United States.  It looked like some kind of cross between Rocky and Transformers.

The story is set in the not-to-distant future and revolves around Charlie Kenton (Jackman), a former boxer who is now trying to make his mark in the world of robot boxing.  Charlie’s irrational optimism combined with his arrogant nature has made him a complete failure.  He foolishly matches his robots up against bigger, tougher competitors and it’s no surprise that he always comes away as a loser.  His financial track record isn’t any better.  He’s in a heap of debt and there’s virtually no way that he’s going to be able to repay it (he’s the human equivalent of Lehmann Brothers).

Charlie’s self-centred demeanour is best illustrated by the relationship he has with his 11-year-old son, Max (Goyo).  I use the term “relationship” very loosely.  Charlie hasn’t seen Max since he was born and has no interest in his life whatsoever.  No fatherly visits, no birthday gifts, no Christmas cards.  He was more than happy to let the mother take full responsibility for Max when they split over a decade ago.  Kids are not his style.

Things are about to change however.  Max’s mother passes away (for reasons not explained in the film) and as his father, Charlie is entitled to custody.  He’s excited about the opportunity but not for the reasons you might expect.  He learns that Max’s aunt and uncle are interested in becoming his guardian and so Charlie agrees to their request in exchange for $100,000.  Yep, that’s right – he “sold” his only son.  There’s one condition however – Max must stay with Charlie for two months while the aunt and uncle go on a European holiday.

Ok, I’ll admit that does sound cheesy.  They’ve probably have gone a little too far in portraying Charlie as the ultimate scumbag.  Once you get past the first half hour though, Real Steel finds its feet and becomes an entertaining story of a father connecting with his son.  Both are going to have a lot of fun in the process.  They find an old robot while searching through a junkyard for parts and together, they prepare it for a few small fights.  It turns out to the start of something much bigger…

I’m tired of action films that take themselves too seriously and are filled with stuffy characters.  Hugh Jackman (X-Men, Australia) is great in this role and I can’t think of too many actors would be more suitable.  He has that “ordinary guy” quality that makes you want to cheer for him.  The stand out performance however comes from 12-year-old Dakota Goyo as Max.  It’s hard to believe someone that age can look so confident on screen.  Audiences will fall in love with him.

Judging from some of the tweets I received after seeing this film last weekend, it seems I wasn’t the only one with doubts.  For those in that basket, let me put your mind at ease and say that Real Steel is well worth your money.  You don’t even have to pay inflated 3D prices either!