Boxer-turned-fledgling fight promoter Charlie Kenton’s (Hugh Jackman) dreams of winning a world title were dashed the day robots began replacing human beings in the ring. Broke and in a losing battle with booze, he currently finds himself struggling to stay a step ahead of all the impatient loan sharks holding his IOUs.
Charlie first tries to pay off his debts in one fell swoop by placing a big bet on his only robot in a bout against a bull being staged at the state fair. But that endeavor leads to disaster when his rusty, remote-controlled machine not only loses, but is reduced to a worthless pile of rubble in the process.
Charlie is about to hit rock bottom, when he receives word that an ex-girlfriend has just passed away, suddenly making him the legal guardian of an 11 year-old he’s never known. Max (Dakota Goyo) soon arrives accompanied by his filthy-rich Aunt Debra (Hope Davis) and Uncle Marvin (James Rebhorn) who assume that the down-and-out, deadbeat dad would be more than happy to let them raise the boy in the lap of luxury.
After conniving Charlie threatens to put Max up for adoption, he signs away his rights for what amounts to a $100,000 ransom and a chance to spend the summer with the boy before finally surrendering custody. The couple grudgingly agrees, thereby affording the two an opportunity to develop a deep bond while turning an obsolete android abandoned in a junk yard into a contender for the World Robot Boxing Federation crown.
So unfolds “Real Steel,” an overcoming-the-odds boxing flick packing a surprisingly-powerful emotional punch (pardon the expression) for a cliché-ridden sci-fi revolving around rock‘em-sock‘em robots in 2020. Though the picture’s basic plotline superficially sounds like a futuristic version of Rocky, the sentimental father-son drama actually features far more of the earmarks of a kid-friendly Steven Spielberg (who served as executive producer) adventure than that Sly Stallone classic.
Credit director Shawn Levy for cultivating an endearing chemistry between co-stars Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo while simultaneously ratcheting up the tension around their pugilistic robot’s ring prospects. Consequently, the audience ends up caring as much about Charlie and Max’s blossoming relationship as about their underdog quest for the crown. Maybe more, as real heart trumps real steel.