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Real Steel

Entry updated 14 July 2021. Tagged: Film.

Film (2011). Dreamworks Pictures and Reliance Entertainment present a 21 Laps/Montford Murphy production. Directed by Shawn Levy. Written by John Gatins, Dan Gilroy and Jeremy Leven, based on the short story "Steel" (May 1956 F&SF) by Richard Matheson. Cast includes Hope Davis, Olga Fonda, Dakota Goyo, Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, Anthony Mackie, James Rebhorn and Karl Yune. 127 minutes. Colour.

A father and son lead a scrapyard Robot to the World Robot Boxing Championship final.

"I'm putting him in shadow mode. Without the voice-recognition he'll be faster."

Solid performances and decent special effects mitigate the sentiment and formulaic plotting of this, the second adaptation of Richard Matheson's short story "Steel" – Matheson's own adaptation for an episode of The Twilight Zone first aired in 1963 – and if the animatronic robots are more persuasively rendered than the Near Future setting, the younger audience at which it is so obviously aimed have plenty to keep them entertained.

Down-on-his-luck robot-boxing promoter Charlie Kenton (Jackman) is reunited with his 11-year-old son Max (Goyo) after the boy's mother dies, and the pair fight (and lose) a number of undercard fight contests before discovering "Atom", an old, generation-two sparring robot, in a junkyard. The boy's Videogame-derived programming skills combine with the Atom's shadow-boxing function to produce a contender and Charlie and Max are able to shame promoter Farra Lemkova (Fonda) and Computer-programmer Tak Mashido (Yune), the brains behind undefeated World Robot Boxing champion "Zeus", into providing a Rocky-style fight for the World Championship against Atom. Atom narrowly loses the fight but becomes the "people's champion".

The imperatives of the film's budget – Steven Spielberg was among the producers – are a little too visible in the finished product for it to be genuinely uplifting but Real Steel's comparative success at the box-office shows that its plethora of product placements and composite story-line did not engender too much cynicism in filmgoers. Games tie-ins were produced for the PS3 and Xbox 360; a sequel was mooted but never made. [MD]

see also: Robert Zemeckis.


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