The surprise of 2011, in terms of movie expectations versus what we experience in the theater, has to be Real Steel. Hugh Jackman is at his best as a former boxer with one more shot at the title. The film is a triumph of the spirit and will leave you cheering in your seat!
Real Steel follows Jackman’s Charlie, a former boxer who came close to being the champ right as the sport of boxing moved from humans to robots who could inflict more damage on each other - something for which the public was yearning.
The film’s opening sequence expertly introduces the characters and how Charlie is desperate to get behind a robot winner. It is here that actor Kevin Durand shows why he is one of Hollywood’s most underrated actors. He becomes one of Charlie’s nemeses. That’s just it, there are so many people who are wishing ill on Jackman’s character that there seems to be no life jacket to pull him to safety.
Family and the bond that is shared between blood relatives is a theme of Real Steel. At its heart it is a father and son story, although it is also a Rocky-like tale of boxing supremacy when the film's David takes on Goliath. The combination of the two elements makes Real Steel one of the film year’s biggest unexpected gifts.
The technology of the film is also impressive. Real Steel’s robots each have their own personalities, boxing styles and movements that recall some of boxing’s greatest. Never for one moment is there any doubt that what eyes are seeing in the ring is nothing less than an all-out brawl for victory, regardless of whether the competitors are robots or humans.
Jackman sizzles, but so does his supporting cast. Spotlights are deserved for Evangeline Lilly, Anthony Mackie and in a break-out movie moment, Dakota Goyo as the 11-year-old son Jackman has to take responsibility for when his mother dies.
Real Steel takes place in a not so distant future. The American heartland is still as it is today, yet director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum, Date Night) lays out a film that possesses the little things to have us believe Real Steel’s landscape is beyond our time - but within grasp of what is real. So many films with future landscapes forget that technological progress is slow, even if it seems otherwise. Real Steel plays within those boundaries and is just another example of how when the devil is in the details, this film doesn’t stray from staying true to itself.
The triumph of Real Steel is not that it exceeds expectations. As we heard from the film’s boxing consultant in our Sugar Ray Leonard interview, the key to a good boxer and a good boxing film is heart.
Jackman’s latest is so full of that mojo that the journey inspires the audience through its fictional storyline to comprehend that life is one knockdown away from being over. Yet, with the right fortitude, anyone can get up and still raise their fists in victory.