When someone talks about boxing movies, you’ll always hear about the classics: Rocky, Creed, Ali, Cinderella Man, etc..However, there’s one forgotten movie that you’ll almost never hear get brought up in that conversation. That movie is Real Steel.
On its surface, the 2011 robot-boxing movie seems like nothing more than a live action Rock ‘em Sock ‘em adaptation, and sadly, that’s exactly how most people view this movie. To be fair, it does tread along some of the same classic boxing movie tropes, but in reality, it doesn’t matter how predictable a movie is, it’s more about how well it accomplishes what it sets out to achieve.
Real Steel doesn’t redefine the genre in any way, shape, or form, nor does it try to. It delivers a more than solid family movie that is jam-packed with fun action, good acting, and a coherent plot.
The film received a 60% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 73% audience rating while raking in about $300 million on an $80 million budget, yet it never got a sequel. Even though it probably didn’t make as much money as the studio had hoped, it had enough fans that probably would’ve helped create an even more successful.
This film deserves more praise than it gets. When it first came out, the film had somewhat of a cult following which has since died out. My hope is that this article will serve as a reminder as to how good this movie really was and reinvigorate some of its fandom.
Every (Or most at least) boxing movie implements a familial or personal aspect into the story, but few movies put it in the forefront. Real Steel does just that, this is a family movie that just so happens to feature some boxing.
Hugh Jackman’s character, Charlie, is a retired boxer who does robot boxing to help his struggling finances. He has no real family and struggles with his relationships. Charlie discovers that he has a son, Max, who’s mother died. He agrees to look after his son for a fee, but it quickly becomes about much more than just the money for Charlie.
The movie could’ve chosen to be all about the boxing league and how it works, but instead it decides to focus on these two character’s broken relationship as they finally become family. The journey the film takes us on as we watch their relationship grow and strengthen, is an emotional and rewarding one.
As every good action movie does, all of the action scenes serve a purpose in the narrative other than just being a fun set-piece for audiences to enjoy. They use boxing as a means of advancing the character’s journey. In the beginning, they use the opening fight between Charlie’s robot Ambush and a bull to establish Charlie’s character as well as show his weakness, arrogance.
How could we possibly talk about family in this movie and not mention Atom? After being the reason of conflict when he first appears, he quickly becomes Max’s only friend and allows him to open himself up to Charlie, giving the two something to work on and bond over. Atom is the force that turns them into a family.
The real reason people went to see this movie wasn’t for the family drama, or even Hugh Jackman’s abs, it was for the robot boxing matches. Real Steel does NOT disappoint.
The film does a phenomenal job at making every robot feel like their own thing as well as being an accurate representation of where they come from. For example, the robot Metro looks like a hodgepodge of used scrap metal since he comes from from one of the poorer regions in the world, while robots like Twin Cities and Zeus look shiny and expensive.
On top of their unique designs, the robots’ names add so much to their characters. Like Rocky Balboa, Apollo Creed, or even real world fighters like Muhammad Ali or Floyd Mayweather, names are everything in boxing.
The name Zeus is indicative that the robot possesses god-like power, and Twin Cities hints at the robot’s two heads as well as its urban design. So much care and thought went into the crafting of each and every one of these robots.
The story here is nothing that hasn’t been seen before, but it totally works.
It’s basically the same as Rocky: a down-on-his-luck man boxes his way to success as the underdog who ends up soaring past everyone’s expectations, while going through his fair share of ups and downs along the way. However, it works so well with these character arcs that the ending feels even more jovial and exciting you would’ve been expected.
What also adds to this underdog arc is the film’s transition from the dirty and worn down regions where Charlie fights in the beginning, to the shiny and pristine arenas him and Max fight in towards the end.
The rough and cheap look of Atom compared to that of the increasingly polished opponents puts into perspective their journey all the way up the ranks, making the success they experience on this journey all the more satisfying.
Real Steel is perhaps one of the most under-appreciated films within the past decade. It manages to take a story that we’ve seen so many times before, and tell it in a way that endears the audience all over again.
The world it develops is easily the most memorable part. It’s so rich with characters, unique robots, and designs, that it just begs to be explored even further. There’s so much left unseen of this world, it’s a shame we probably won’t get to explore it further.
Audiences always claim they want something new and original, but when they finally get something original like this, they’re quick to skip out on it. This was a brilliant, unique film that deserved to have its story and world expanded upon in sequels.