As I sat down for the pre-screening of Real Steel, the hosts of the event did the usual “give away t-shirts” bit and then dropped a bombshell on the audience. Steve Jobs was dead. They said it as simple as that. Nobody could check, because the theatre required we turned our cell phones off during the movie to prevent anybody recording it. They talked about what a loss it was for us and they were right. Steve Jobs took our idea of the future and created it, changing media, entertainment, and countless other avenues forever. We were told before Real Steel began that this was especially saddening as much of the movie uses concepts taken directly from Apple. From robots controlled by touchpads, to cell phones that are clearly near-future versions of iPhones, Real Steel is a movie about technology and what it can do for people. But in the end all of the soul of the movie is found in the humans, and especially a little boy. Read on.
Real quick (Two words in and I’ve already started with the bad jokes) let me tell you about Real Steel. It’s a movie about a semi-washed up boxer named Charlie (Hugh Jackman) who now gambles all of his money on fighting robots, that are controlled by hand, who pretty much has lost it all and finds out his ex-girlfriend has died. And he has a son. And he doesn’t care.
In fact, he literally sells his son into custody of the boy’s aunt for 100,000$. But there’s a catch. He has to take care of the boy for a couple a months until they get back from a trip. Oh no, sound the alarm! This sounds like the beginning of a cheesy movie where the little boy gets into all sorts of trouble and needs a strong father figure. Another one? Wrong.
This little boy (Dakota Goyo) is a little punk, and a justified little punk. Despite this his character is designed to be more mature than his father and knows from the very beginning that his dad sold him, sparing us a late movie confrontation of “I’ve grown to love you…. but I must tell you something…. I sold you”. Luckily that never happens, and from the beginning the boy, Max, says “Give me half of the money you sold me for and I’m going to go my own way”. Tough kid.
***SPOILER ALERT*** Dakota Goyo STEELS the show!!! Oh god… I did it again…. ***END SPOILER ALERT***
The kid ends up staying and they go back to their boxing/training place, that is owned by the lovely Bailey (Evangeline Lilly). Bailey is a “former” love interest of Charlie who still wastes her time trying to keep his career going. Her and Max get along great, but Max and Charlie don’t, blah blah blah. UNTIL Max finds a beat-up sparring robot in a junkyard while they are stealing parts to make a new robot.
Max sees something special about the robot that the others don’t see immediately and by the end of the movie you will be wondering if you really saw the same thing they did or if it was just trickery. The robots name is Atom, by the way. Moving on.
The robots never really feel like they have much soul, but some of this is intentional as they are just vessels to be controlled by their owners. The visual effects on the robots look quite good though, somewhere between a J.J. Abrams movie and a Michael Bay movie in terms of special effects quality. These fights lead to some fun scenes, but again and again it comes back to the fact that this movie is about Dakota Goyo.
Hugh Jackman is good as Hugh Jackman playing Hugh Jackman and Evangeline Lilly adds a great sense of charm to any scene she’s in. The robot fights are cool and interesting to watch, but Max/Dakota is the bomb! Only a child could pull of the things Max says and does without them being annoying, pompous, or out-of-place and the decision to cast Goyo in the role was perfect, giving us an eleven year old badass instead of the cliché, too often seen, of the whiny, defenseless, overly cute brat.
The end of the movie takes a page out of the Rocky handbook, but does so tastefully. Although the “villains” were rather one-dimensional and I wished the story had gone deeper in some directions that I thought it would, I was happy with the end product. Real Steel is a feel good movie and isn’t too sappy or overly done. It’s a good movie. Plain and simple. Not a great movie, but worth a watch if you are looking for a good hour and a half.
I give Real Steel a 7.5 out of 10 for being fun to watch, inspiring, and giving us a young actor worth looking out for in the future.
It was a surreal experience to watch a movie about technology all the while unsure of Steve Jobs status only to get home and find out he was truly gone. R.I.P. Steve Jobs, you had a good run.