I can hardly wait for Hugh Jackman to make those movie musicals he's promised his many fans! However, until that happens, I’m content to watch this multi-talented actor/performer in whatever screen roles he chooses -- Wolverine, an Australian drover, a deceitful partner -- or, as in Real Steel, a struggling boxing promoter whose many character flaws include a willingness to sell his 11-year-old son. No matter what part Jackman plays, his charisma shows through, and it’s not easy to take your eyes off him. But he faces stiff competition in Real Steel, for the boxers involved here just happen to be gigantic, electrifying robots -- and the actor playing his son is Dakota Goyo, who gives Jackman a run for his money in the screen presence department.
The story takes place in the future at a time when robot boxing has become a major sport. No longer do human boxers beat each other’s brains out. Instead, magnificent robots clash in rings as large crowds cheer or boo their every blow. Charlie Kenton (Jackman), a former boxer who either knocked out his opponents or was knocked out himself in every fight, is now trying to arrange fights for his robot Ambush. When Ambush gets clobbered, Charlie buys Noisy Boy -- but that doesn’t work out either. Finances are now a BIG problem for Charlie. About this same time, he finds out that an old girlfriend died -- and surprise! -- left him Max, a son he didn’t know about. Neither father nor son seems happy about this new “togetherness.” But, naturally (this IS a Walt Disney project, after all), they grow to appreciate their relationship -- with assistance from Atom, a robot Max discovers in a junk yard.
How working with Atom changes Charlie and Max forms the core of this gritty, entertaining film. Although much too loud, the robot boxing matches are exciting to watch. Still, it’s the impressive performances by Jackman (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and Goyo (Thor) that make this movie something special. Jackman endows his less-than-perfect character with an edgy, impulsive manner; Goyo projects a stubbornness combined with intelligence and sass. When these two interact, they seem so real! In fact, I almost felt like I was spying on them.
Fortunately, other actors provide strong support here. Evangeline Lilly (Lost), who looks absolutely lovely, oozes concern as Charlie’s longtime friend and owner of the one-time gym where he works on his robots. Kevin Durand (Legion) plays a violent bad guy -- and does so with great gusto. Karl Yune (Memoirs of a Geisha) and Olga Fonda (Little Fockers) also make us want to jeer, especially when their characters try to defeat Atom with Zeus, their super robot.
Directed by Shawn Levy (Date Night), Real Steel benefits from excellent special effects and visual effects by the folks at Legacy Effects and Digital Domain, respectively. Inspired by a Richard Matheson short story, John Gatins’ (Dreamer) screenplay emphasizes the give and take needed in a father/son relationship and reminds us that sometimes “the child is father to the man.”
What surprises me the most about Real Steel is the way this film featuring robots evoked such sentimental feelings in me -- similar to the way I reacted to WALL*E, that marvelous animated movie about a trash-collecting robot. The reason, of course, involves talented filmmakers -- and, in the case of Real Steel, outstanding performances by human actors as well.
(Released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and rated “PG-13” for some violence, intense action and brief language.)
For more information about Real Steel, go to the Internet Movie Data Base or Rotten Tomatoes website.