MOVIE REVIEW: "Real Steel" (2011)

Wil Avitt
Wil Avitt's picture


Forget the name Richard Matheson. In reference to this movie, at least, just wipe that name right out of your mind. In fact, go into this movie thinking of it as an adaptation of the old skool game Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots. Do that and Real Steel is a fun, family-friendly movie about giant robots beating the crap out of each other.

If you're still reading, I'm sorry for what I'm about to do, but I can't properly review this film without giving some stuff away. So here goes. Real Steel tells the story of an ex-boxer who now "manages" a fighting robot who fights at county fairs and tractor pulls and such. Unlike in the original Matheson story, human boxing has not been outlawed, it just became old hat and evolved into the robots fighting because of the audience's wanting to see fighters get maimed and broken and obliterated, things that could never happen with two men fighting. Basically, the average human being's thirst for blood in the sport of boxing outgrew the capabilities of human boxers.

Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman, X-men) wants to get into the big arenas of robot boxing, the only problem is that his robot is junky. He is forced to fight at the fairs and tractor pulls and illegal underground fights to pay off bookies from previous fights his crappy robot lost. His robot is ripped to shreds fighting a bull (yes, a black cow with horns), destroying all of Charlie's hopes. To make matters worse, he finds out that his ex-girlfriend, whom he hasn't seen in a decade, is dead and he is the proud father of an 11-year-old boy who's now his responsibility. Charlie goes to court to sign his kid, Max, over to his ex-girlfriend's sister and her rich husband, but instead sees an opportunity to make some quick bank to buy a new robot. He strikes a deal with the rich husband, who doesn't want the kid until after he and his wife get to take a trip to Italy, that Charlie will take Max for the summer then sign him over to them in exchange for $100,000. He gets 50 now and 50 when he turns the kid over to them at the end of the summer.

With the 50K he got in advance he buys a new robot, a former champ from the big arena, and gets ready to leave, planning to dump Max with his current girlfriend while he travels the fight circuit. Max has other plans, however, and blackmails Charlie into taking him along. They get to the fight and Charlie's greed gets the best of him and the new robot is destroyed in the first fight. Downtrodden, the pair try to steal parts out of a junkyard to build a new robot and end up finding a whole robot, though quite out of date, who saves Max's life when he falls off a cliff. Charlie doesn't want the robot, though Max insists they keep it. Max soon trains the robot to take on the fighting circuit.

Ok, this movie is your average underdog makes good kind of story. There's really nothing spectacular about it. The new robot starts winning the amateur fights and gets a shot at an undercard match in the big leagues. Max takes him all the way to the champ, and that's as far as I'll go, but it's basically the same story as Rocky or Major League or any other underdog sports tale. Fun, but nothing special.

The only thing that really bothers me is that it isn't really an adaptation of the Matheson story, which had already been adapted by Matheson himself into the fifth season Twilight Zone episode "Steel" starring Lee Marvin. It's a bare bones version of Matheson's story, but it doesn't carry over any of the themes of the original, except maybe obsession. But whereas Steel Kelley's obsession nearly destroys him, Charlie Kenton learns to overcome obsession and that the sport is more than winning. Mostly, though, Charlie's story is that of an estranged father and son learning how to love one another. It's a sweet movie, it really is, it just isn't Matheson. Incidentally, this isn't the first time a Matheson story, first adapted for the Twilight Zone, has been made into a feature film. The Matheson story "Button, Button" was adapted into an episode of the same name on the 80's Zone and then for the big screen as The Box, but The Box stayed much truer to the Matheson source than did Real Steel. But if you're just looking to take your kid to a movie about robots ripping each other's arms off, you could do a lot worse than Real Steel. A fun movie, just not Matheson.

Will Conservatives Like This Movie?

Real Steel is an apolitical family movie. It has a core theme of the importance of family and the role a father plays in the formative years of the son. So yes, I believe conservatives could find a lot to enjoy about this movie.