(Shawn Levy, 2011)
Take Rocky, add a little sprinkling of The Champ, and then; add robots.
That sounds truly awful, I know. But Real Steel works on it's own, oh-so simple terms. Based on a Richard Matheson story - always a good thing - it is set a few years in the future, when boxing has been replaced by robot boxing, allowing for far more violence and carnage in the ring as machines pound and rend one another into scrap metal. Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is an ex-contender, now plugging his way from one debt and one robot to another, never catching a break, living off the goodwill of his ex (Evangeline Lily). Then his 11-year old son (Dakota Goyo) shows up, and Charlie does a deal with the husband of the boy's Aunt - he will spend a summer with Charlie, who will then give him up and be rewarded with a $50,000 payday. All Charlie cares about is the money.
But the boy loves robot Boxing as much as he does, and they bond over the potential of Atom, an old, battered sparring bot they find one night in the scrapyard.
Atom is built to take punishment, and with the modifications made by the boy and Charlie's knowhow, he starts to win fights and develop a reputation. All the while, father and son are growing closer as they drive back and forth across the country, and Charlie's bad luck seems to be changing. Then there is the seemingly invincible super-bot Zeus on the horizon, built to spot patterns and counter them, but perhaps not quite so comfortable against human spontaneity and creativity.
There is nothing new here; not a scene or character or idea or emotion or gag. But what there is, is effectively done. The fight scenes are exciting, nicely manipulative, and well-shot. The gushing sentiment of the father-son scenes is affecting. This sort of underdog tale cannot miss unless it's done really badly, and this one is not.
As robot boxing movies go, in fact, I imagine you can't do any better...