Although some critics were skeptical Hugh Jackman’s new film “Real Steel” would turn out to be little more than “Rock’em Sock’em Robots: The Movie,” the film turns out to carry far more emotional weight than robots just smashing each other in a boxing ring. At its heart, the film is really about how an estranged father and son find a way to heal past scars and restore their relationship.
The film is set in the near future, in a time when robot boxing has replaced the traditional sport. The robots are controlled by human “trainers” using remote controls or voice commands. One of those trainers is Charlie (played by Hugh Jackman), who was an actual boxer before the rise of robot boxing. He’s had a run of bad luck and broken robot boxers, and isn’t exactly a poster child for responsibility.
When his young son Max (whom he barely knows) comes to spend the summer with him, the two don’t really hit it off. It’s not until they rescue a battered old robot named “Atom” and turn him into an underdog robot boxing champion that Charlie finally realizes how much having an absent father has hurt Max, and how much his son really does mean to him.
Overall, I really enjoyed the film, and it’s definitely one that I’d recommend. The robot boxing in the film is well choreographed (think “Rocky” meets “Transformers”), but the special effects never overpower the story. It’s a great underdog story that puts an interesting new twist on a well-used genre. (Spoiler alert!) Although “Atom” doesn’t end up winning the final championship, neither Charlie nor Max really care. They realize it’s been a good ride, and the audience is likely to agree.