Well last night I watched a film called “Reel Steel”on DVD and I thought I would tell you what I thought about it. Please don’t read if you have not seen the film, spoiler alert.
It is basically a combination of “Rocky” with “Robot Wars” with a splash of father/son relationship building in between. If you don’t know “Robot Wars” was a BBC series that involved teams of amateur and professional roboteers who made their own robots to fight against each other in both friendly and tournament matches whilst “Rocky” tells the rags to riches American Dream story of Rocky Balboa, an uneducated but kind-hearted debt collector for a loan shark in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania who starts out as a club fighter but later gets a shot at the world heavyweight championship.
Reel Steel is set several decades in the future in an age where, due to a skyrocketing demand for brutality in the arena, humans have been replaced by remote-controlled robots in boxing. Enter Hugh Jackman as Charlie, a former boxer made obsolete by the robots years ago, currently working as an unsuccessful trainer/controller, Evangeline Lilly as Bailey, his on-off girlfriend and Dakota Goyo as his estranged son Max. The film revolves around the relationships between the three, specifically Charlie’s reluctance to spend any time with Max, who he hasn’t seen since he was a baby, and also Charlie’s reluctance to commit to any kind of serious relationship with Bailey.
At a rural fair, Charlie’s Robot Ambush is destroyed by Black Thunder, a bull belonging to promoter Ricky (Kevin Durand). Having made a bet that Ambush would win, Charlie now owes Ricky $20,000, which he doesn’t pay before leaving.
Charlie is then informed that his ex-girlfriend has died, and that he must attend a hearing to decide the fate of his preteen son Max (Dakota Goyo). Max’s wealthy aunt Debra (Hope Davis) and uncle Marvin (James Rebhorn) want full custody, which Charlie gives them in exchange for $100,000, half in advance, on the condition that Charlie take care of Max for three months while the couple are away on a second honeymoon.
Charlie and Max meet with Charlie’s childhood friend Bailey Tallet (Evangeline Lilly), who runs the boxing gym of her deceased father, Charlie’s old coach. There, Charlie buys a secondhand World Robot Boxing league (WRB) robot, the once-famous Noisy Boy, and arranges for it to fight the illegal circuit’s champion, Midas, at a venue belonging to his friend Finn. Partly due to both his inexperience with Noisy Boy’s combinations and his own overconfidence, Charlie ends up losing control of Noisy Boy and Midas destroys it.
Charlie breaks into a junkyard with Max to steal scraps that he can use to put a new robot together. There, Max falls over a ledge, where he is saved from doom by getting snagged on the arm of a buried robot. After Charlie pulls Max back up, Max digs out the entire robot, called Atom. On Max’s insistence, Charlie takes it back to Bailey’s gym, where they discover Atom is an obsolete Generation-2 sparring bot built in 2014. Atom has been designed to sustain massive damage, but is unable to deal much damage itself. Atom also has a “shadow function” for following human movement. Partly due to both Max’s insistence and Charlie needing money, the duo has Atom fight an unsanctioned outdoor match against a robot called Metro. Atom wins, earning back some of Charlie’s money.
Max later upgrades Atom to take vocal commands and to have harder-hitting punching power, using parts from Charlie’s demolished robots, and convinces Charlie to train Atom. Atom’s string of subsequent wins attracts the attention of a promoter from the WRB, who offers Atom a professional fight against the robot Twin Cities. Charlie accepts, and Atom wins again. Reveling in their subsequent novelty attention, Max challenges WRB champion Zeus, designed by genius Tak Mashido (Karl Yune) and sponsored by wealthy Farra Lemcova (Olga Fonda), who before the match tries to buy Atom.
In between we see the relationship between father and son develop and they start to trust each other again. Their father-son spats is what gives the film its heart. As expected (and under pressure from world fans) Tak and his robot Zeus accepts Max’s challenge and the resulting match between them is awesome. And whether Atom wins or not doesn’t really matter in the end, like “Rocky” it ends up being the people’s champion.
Before I saw this film I just did not know what to expect but was pleasantly surprised. In fact I thoroughly enjoyed this film and it had me shouting “atom atom” at the end. The CGI effects and fight sequences are very good. And Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo work very well together on the screen.
So well worth a watch in my opinion.