Real Steel – When Does a Bomb Becomes Magic

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The world isn’t exactly experiencing the best of times right now. To say life is rough can be an understatement in times like this, so how do we learn to look up? Where are the things that can encourage us to keep going. One little such gem recently found its way to Netflix. It is the worst of movies, totally unoriginal, totally predictable, yet within its parts, this box office bomb inspires true magic. How does a failed movie become magical? When it’s made from REaL STEEL.

Real Steel – From Ashes, a Classic

Charlie and ATOM practice
Rocky remade

Look at the top of the box office charts (okay old box office charts). The movies at the top hauled in tons of cash. They made studios millions of dollars, but how many do you watch today? I’d bet not more than 1 or 2 and then only because they belong to your favorite franchise. Now think about your movie catalog, what are the movies outside your favorite franchise that you watch repeatedly?

They are not the multimillion dollar movies. Most often they are the box office bombs. They made very little money (probably even lost the studios some cash), and critics hated them. Yet we watch them over and over again because in their pieces comes the magic we are looking for. Movies like The Neverending Story, The Dark Crystal, The Princess Bride, Mortal Kombat, the original Star Trek tv show. These and many others failed horribly upon release, but over time became some of the greatest memories in movie/tv history.

Real Steel – A Recipe For Failure

Real Steel bombed at the box office. On a $110 million budget it opened to $27 million and domestically only grossed $85.4 million total. If you look it up on Rotten Tomatoes its critic rating sits are 60% while the audience rating only rises to 73%. The numbers scream mediocrity, and while it will not be for everyone, this little gem is magical.

For a movie made in 2011 the special effects of the robots are pretty solid, but that was all that really achieved in this movie. The story already existed. In fact not only was this script not very original it nearly copied the original Rocky verbatim. Even the ending fights were nearly the same, so it only feels natural for viewers to be disappointed the first time they watch it. This movie fails to feel like anything original. So where is the magic?

Real Steel – A Brilliantly Hidden Cast

Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo
Father and son find common ground

Movie remakes and reboots are a way of life in this day and age. This movie does little to change up the Rocky story line, so how do you make it special? You fill its roles with stars that sell it.

Hugh Jackman is….well….Hugh. He was the tentpole actor for this film, cast to fill the seats. At this point he had cemented himself as Wolverine for 10 years and starred in multiple hits. Jackman’s greatness is well documented, but still in Real Steel it’s the quirky little things he does that makes his role so great. His ticks and expressions make any character he plays unique and stand out. A great comparison would be 80’s career of Harrison Ford.

The key to this movie lay with Hugh’s half-pint sidekick, Charlie’s son Max played by Dakota Goyo. Dakota brings a fire and stubbornness to Max that let’s him play off Jackman wonderfully, but when the emotions are needed Dakota sells the scenes perfectly. In fact Star Wars fans can ponder this. Watch Dakota act in this movie and then tell yourself he is the same age as Jake Lloyd. What if he was our young Skywalker?

Dakota Goyo as Max
Who is your father again?

So does the film stop with those two? Nope. Add in Evangeline Lilly, known from Lost but pre-Hobbit, Anthony Mackie pre-MCU Falcon, Kevin Durand a fellow X-Men alum, along with Hope Davis and James Rebhorn. The casting may not be outwardly a stand out cast, but together they bring real character and personality to the background of the film. Lilly plays Bailey as a strong, capable gym owner and robot guru while giving her the softer, more vulnerable edges to deal with Charlie. Mackie and Durand really steal their scenes though, especially when the two square off.

Real Steel – What Was Broken Is Now Remade

While the story itself contains very little that is truly original, all these parts come together to create something inspiring and uplifting. To look for greatness in this film only sets you up for failure. To look for something enjoyable and redeeming set you up to experience the magic. Director Shawn Levy does an amazing job showing the feelings of the characters and how they all grow. If his name doesn’t sound familiar it should. He directed shows like Stranger Things and Night at the Museum.

We see Jackman take Charlie from a down on his luck, selfish boxer to not only a father who learns to care for his son, but also regains his self respect and pride as a boxer. Jackman’s charm in winning back pretty much every other character in the film really helps uplift the film by its ending. Like in Rocky, he may fall short of the intended prize, but what he wins is so much more. Even though you know what’s coming, those looks from Bailey and Max as Charlie achieves the unachievable really stirs the soul.

Is this some great top-of-the-line movie, destined to be mentioned amongst the greatest films ever made? No. But it is one of those films that lets you remember what’s good in this world, and if you are not careful, you might find yourself shedding a tear of joy when all is said and done. Like the story itself, it may miss out on the big prize but lets you know what’s truly important.

Real Steel is currently streaming on Netflix.

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