Real Steel

Directed By: Shawn Levy

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Evangelline Lilly, Anthony Mackie, and Kevin Durand

After four starring roles in X-Men films and a cameo in this year's X-Men: First Class, I was starting to get worried that Hugh Jackman would get pigeonholed into playing a metal-bearing mutant with anger management issues and amnesia.  His latest outing in Shawn Levy's Real Steel gives me hope however.  Though Jackman still portrays a dude with an attitude problem, his lovable rudeness works in a very different way on the big screen when pairing it with the charm and wit of young star Dakota Goyo.  Levy's Real Steel is a fun flick that feels more like a sports movie than a sci-fi one.

Over the course of the next decade, the sport of boxing will change tremendously.  The film takes place in 2020 when humans are no longer boxing.  Machines have taken our place in the ring.  Charlie Kenton (Jackman), a former boxer, gets into illegal robot boxing matches to cover his debts from a number of different loan sharks.  His only problem is that he always makes the bad bets.  After his robot Ambush is utterly decimated by a bull named Black Thunder, Charlie has nothing and owes the bull's owner Ricky (Kevin Durand) $20,000.  When his ex-girlfriend dies, Charlie even sells his custody rights to his own son Max (Goyo) to his aunt and uncle (Hope Davis and James Rebhorn) for $100,000. 

As part of the deal with Max's aunt and uncle, Charlie must take care of his son for the summer until they return from Italy.  The two are an odd pair.  Charlie's only interest lies in getting back into the boxing ring with a new robot.  Against his father's wishes, Max wants to join him at ringside for these matches.  With the money from Max's uncle, Charlie buys a famed robot named Noisy Boy, which soon gets annihilated by another robot in another one of Charlie's bad bets.  Desperate for a new bot and to stay in the game, Charlie and Max go to a scrap yard to find parts to put together a new bot.  Instead, they find Atom, an old robot that was tossed aside.  This sparring robot gets into fights in which he shouldn't even be competing and changes Charlie's fortunes for the better.

The thing that makes Real Steel unique is its premise.  It's basically a sports movie masquerading as a sci-fi film.  Yes, it's futuristic.  Yes, there are badass robots that are pimped out to look as good as any Autobot or Decepticon.  Yes, Hugh Jackman is the star of the movie.  Despite all of this, the plot still works like that of a sports flick.  Humans may not be physically competing but they are controlling every move any robot makes in the ring. 

Given all of this, Levy crafts the film like a sports flick, and it pays off big time.  Because the fights between the bots are boxing matches, there's a real element of the sport still in the movie.  There are certain intangibles that must remain given some level of human involvement in the matches—the pacing of a fight, its physicality, and the raw energy emanating from the audience in an arena.  Levy captures all of this to create a rousing, oddball boxing film with many amazing fight scenes.

Real Steel is everything Transformers: Dark of the Moon should have been this year.  It has plenty of laughs, lots of love, and kickass robots that beat the hell out of each other in a film with an actual plot.  This awesome sci-fi boxing flick gets a 0.03% rating.