Set in the near future, where robot boxing is a top sport, a struggling promoter feels he’s found a champion in a discarded robot. During his hopeful rise to the top, he discovers he has an 11-year-old son who wants to know his father.
I took my son (The growing darker saint) to see this with me today. I had a feeling he might dig it, he digs robots, he digs fighting robots, why wouldn’t he dig this movie which is full of robots that fight? As well as a father/son duo who have a couple of verbal tussles as well? I wondered if it would remind him of someone close to him who’s a lot darker than he is. Apparently, it did…
“Real Steel” is based on Richard Matheson’s short story “Steel” which was adapted for the “Twilight Zone” in the 60’s. Starring Lee Marvin, it told the story of a world where humans no longer fought each other in the square circle. Robots did it for us instead. Marvin played “Steel” Kelly, a former boxer now manager whose fighter “Battling Maxo” was once a pretty imposing contender but newer, more sophisticated robots have taken over the game & Maxo cannot compete. But Kelly continues to fight him against bigger & better opponents. Finally Maxo breaks down & Kelly doesn’t have the money to repair him for his next fight. So he puts on some make up & takes Maxo’s place in the fight (For which Kelly really needs the money) & gets his ass handed to him by the opposing robot. But he gets the money & it ends with him severely beaten up on the trainers table, planning Maxo’s next fight with the purse money he got for the beating he took.
This movie adapts that adaptation adeptly. “Steel” Kelly is now Charlie Kenton, a former fighter who is now driving across the country with his robot fighter “Ambush” looking for fights…and money. He’s in debt up to his ears & is just looking for a break. As the film opens he’s driving to a carnival to pit Ambush against a Bull of all things. Ambush is performing nicely against the bull until Kenton turns his back when he thinks the fight is over. This is when the bull charges & literally tears Ambush to pieces. Bad enough that he lost his robot, he also lost a big bet before the fight with the promoter of the carnival (Who had defeated Charlie when they were boxers) & Charlie has to beat a hasty retreat because he doesn’t have any money. Just before he makes his getaway though, he is approached by two men who want to inform him of the death of his ex-girlfriend. And the fact that he is the next of kin to the son he’s never met.
“Real Steel” isn’t just a movie about 9 ft. tall robots knocking each others block off. It’s the story of Charlie & his son Max as well. It’s about making up for lost opportunities in life, for redemption in both love & respect from those that he’s turned his back on throughout his adult life. This is the real story that “Real Steel” wants to tell. The robots are basically a sub plot actually.
But it’s through the introduction of one very special robot, “Atom”, who’s found covered in mud in a giant robot junkyard that Charlie breaks into in the dead of night with his son (Who he agrees to hold onto for the Summer for a fee of $100,000 before he gives him up to his aunt so she can go away for the Summer with her wealthy husband, Hubby’s plan…not hers). They break in looking for parts to repair Ambush because there is no money to fix him. Max accidentally takes a wrong step though & falls off a cliff & is sliding off into sure death before he is snagged by a robot’s arm which is sticking out the side of the cliff. As Charlie rushes down and rescues him, Max refuses to leave unless he can dig up the rest of the robot that saved his life. Charlie begrudgingly agrees as long as Max digs him up & gets him up the cliff to the truck on his own as well.
Although it takes all night, Max has the same hard head that his dad has and retrieves the robot. Encrusted in mud & muck Charlie instantly recognizes him as a Sparring robot. A robot designed to take a beating but not to fight back. You can probably guess the rest from here…Max pleads to put him in a fight. Charlie says no, he’s too small & not designed to fight back either. But through some experimentation they find that Atom (Whose name Max finds covered with mud on his chestplate, has the ability to “Shadow” his opponent. Meaning he can mimic any move he sees…any move at all. A nifty little advantage for a little robot.
Like I said, you can figure out the rest from here. Father & son slowly grow closer through the film as they take Atom on the underground fighting circuit. Charlie keeps expecting Atom to get thrashed & he does get beat up pretty bad but Atom has the skill to take a beating & rise up to overcome whatever is in front of him. No matter how much bigger & stronger he is. Slowly but surely Atom makes his way through the ranks & as he gets more successful, the bond between Charlie & Max grows stronger as well. Atom brings them together silently (He has no dialogue in the film). There are scenes of Atom’s bruised & battered face in close up throughout the film in which you can’t help but think of Frankenstein’s monster, at least I couldn’t. He communicates through his deep blue eyes, which speak volumes. Kudos to the people behind all of the robot design throughout the film, they are both menacing & hypnotizing at the same time.
Eventually Atom makes the big time & onto the main circuit & after a (Thrilling) victory over a two headed behemoth called “Twin Cities”
Real Steel (2011)