Everything about Real Steel (2011) reeks of epic failure. The trailer is horrific, Hugh Jackman hasn’t made a decent film since Christopher Nolan’s supremely underrated The Prestige (2006) and as for director Shawn Levy, his CV is stained by the likes of The Pink Panther (2006) and Night at the Museum 2 (2009). Real Steel has box office bomb written all over it and yet, miraculously, it is one of the finest family films I have seen in many a moon.
Jackman plays Charlie Kenton, a washed-up ex-boxer who earns his living pitting his old robot Ambush against other robots in illegal underground boxing matches. When Ambush is destroyed, Charlie finds himself heavily in debt to thug promoter Ricky (Kevin Durand) and his friend Bailey (Evangeline Lilly) is about to skip town when he is informed that his ex-girlfriend has died, leaving his son Max (Dakota Goyo) in need of parental supervision.
That’s all you’re going to get from me plot wise, and although there are scenes of weepy sentimentality that some viewers may find offensive, Real Steel has giant metallic balls compared to most kid-friendly flicks. The relationship between Charlie and Max is the core of the film – Jackman and Goyo have great chemistry and the banter between them has not been sterilised (thankfully).
Max swears on a couple of occasions and although strict religious folks who exist on a diet of porridge and prayer might take offence to such profanity, it makes the characters more rounded and believable. It reminded me of 1980s movies such as The Goonies (1985) and the The Karate Kid (1984) – films aimed at children in their early teens which appreciated the fact that kids don’t exist in a bubble and can handle adult themes.
Anyway, who cares about the father-son dynamic when what you really want to see is giant robots ripping each others heads off (Rock’em Sock’em Robot style). The fight sequences are great – quality CGI and enough rousing, Rocky-esque moments designed to keep your inner 12-year-old cheering along. The sound effects are especially good, and if ever a film was worth seeing at the cinema this year, it’s Real Steel.
As for negatives, the ending could have been better and Jackman and Lilly’s relationship never catches fire, but if you’re a parent looking to treat your spawn to a day out at the pictures (or you simply fancy something fun and forgettable on a cold Friday night) then you won’t leave the auditorium disappointed after seeing Real Steel.