Real Steel opens with Charlie Denton (Hugh Jackman) driving across the open plains of what could be any rural highway in current day America. In the distance we see the bright lights of a carnival midway. Anyone who grew up in wholesome rural America knows that a carnival in town means more than the thrill of an amusement park ride. It brings with it a cast of untrustworthy, down on their luck characters trying to con you out of your money. Of course, none of them are going to be as good looking as Jackman. Real Steel bounces back and forth between a two-lane highway world of nostalgic roadside hotels, with slightly futuristic phones and GPS navigation systems and the seedy underworld of robot boxing where most of the characters look like the dude running the tilt-a-whirl at your local county fair.
Charlie (Jackman) used to be a boxer, but now runs the controls on a boxing robot. And just like Charlie, his robots are looking for the big payoff. He thinks he’s found it when his eleven year old son, Max (Dakota Goya) shows up needing a father, or at least a father willing to sign custody over to a rich aunt. Instead of paying off his debts with his windfall, he invests the cash in a new robot sure to win it all.
Max, schooled by bootleg Japanese video games and fueled by Dr. Pepper, has to show his father and robot engineer/pseudo girlfriend played by Evangeline Lilly how to make the new robot work. Lily’s character may seem underutilized, but this is truly the story of a father and a son, a man his toys, and a boy and his robot. In this world, moms, aunts and girlfriends are on the periphery.
Predictably, Charlie squanders the new robot. But this has to happen in order for Max to see his father’s true colors, for Charlie to learn a final lesson, and for Max to repeat the mistakes of his father with a new robot salvaged from the junkyard. Director Shawn Levy tells this story with amazing special effects and a cast of characters that keep the audience hoping that, just like in their own lives, repeating the mistakes of your father will somehow turn out differently because you have the benefit of his wisdom and experience to guide you.
The film runs 2 hrs. 7 min. and is rated PG-13