Movie #6: Real Steel

I am no fan of boxing movies, so I was pretty sure that the gimmick of having robots doing the fighting wasn’t going to make me enjoy Real Steel any better. The stories in boxing movies are always predictable: underdog rising-star makes it good, suffers set-back, then comes back for the win; all the while he learns some kind of life lesson along the way. Even though all of that was true for this movie, I surprised myself by how much I was excited and cheering for victory as well. It would have been really easy to go for sappy sentimentality (and there were a couple of missteps — one scene with the robot looking at itself in the mirror should probably have been cut). Part of the credit goes to Hugh Jackman, whose innate charisma can’t help coming through his character, Charlie Kenton. He’s a former boxer who has tried to make a career in the robot boxing circuit but is repeatedly getting knocked down by his own bad choices. Jackman is one of the most likeable actors around and it doesn’t take much for us to feel for his situation when he one day receives a call about the accidental death of his ex, who leaves behind an 11-year-old son. Max quickly engages with Charlie’s world of robot boxing and it’s easy to feel like Charlie’s now the perfect dad for Max (despite Charlie’s deadbeat tendencies). Hollywood magic happens as Max and Charlie bond over their attempts to carry their junkyard robot ATOM up through the ranks of the robot boxing world. One of the great things about this movie is how well it balances the human story of Charlie, Max (and Bailey, Charlie’s quasi-girlfriend as played by Lost‘s Evangeline Lilly) and their father-son bond, with the robots slamming each other in the ring. Max is played by Dakota Goyo (from Toronto, woop woop!) and he’s ambitious and full of heart. It’s mostly through Max’s limitless belief in ATOM that they make it as far as they do (there are definite echoes to the wonderful animated film The Iron Giant and the relationship between Hogarth and the robot in that movie). I also find myself wondering how the filmmakers pulled off the incredible-looking robots: from the literally-scrappy and understated ATOM, to huge monstrosities like his opponents The Twin Cities (it had two heads) and reigning champion Zeus (an unstoppable, piano-black, crusher of a bot). The effects were seamless, amazing and completely sold me. I literally believe in this world where robots box (part of me still wonders if these robots already exist in our world … They don’t, right?). On top of that, having robots do the boxing allows humans to stop beating up on each other. There’s a certain intensity but also gruesomeness about seeing men and women beat each other up for sport. The triumph never seems to truly justify the pain. That’s not the same with robots. We don’t feel as much empathy for their pain because we know they don’t really feel any. When they get damaged, we aren’t necessarily sad for them. With this movie, I found that allowed me to enjoy and engage with the sport of boxing in a way that I never had when it was humans fighting. (If this becomes a real sport in a few years — supposedly ATOM was built in 2014 — I might really be into it.) So the combination of endearing characters that you can’t help but root for (including one made of metal), a rising story arc with a fist-pumping conclusion, and top it all off with a surprisingly majestic score from Danny Elfman, and I defy you not to be uplifted by this film. (4.5 out of 5)

6 down, 44 to go!

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2 thoughts on “Movie #6: Real Steel”

  1. I really loved this movie too, even thought I never wanted to see it at first, thinking its a typical boxing/action movie, but it just blew me away, especially the relationship between Charlie and Max, Dakota Goya is really amazing in this…

  2. Isn’t it great to be pleasantly surprised by a movie? (I also thought the Max and ATOM dance moves were great!) Thanks for the comment, Sabrina.

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