We were already excited for Real Steel, Hugh Jackman's movie about robot boxers pounding each other to scrap — but now we've read the script, and we're twice as stoked. This is the robo-rumble you've been waiting for. Spoilers below.
Disclaimer: We read a draft script that was missing a few pages, and a lot could have changed before and during filming, which has already completed on this film, which comes out next October.
We won't give away the whole plot of the movie, just some general impressions and a few details based on perusing the script.
So Real Steel takes place in the near future, after human-on-human boxing has been outlawed. The only boxing that remains is robot boxing, and the main boxing organization is the World Robot Boxing League, which features huge glitzy boxing matches where super-expensive machines pound each other until one of them is a sparking, flailing pile of spare parts. There are robot reporters covering the matches, and tons of money at stake. Each boxer's "corner" consists of a high-tech control center where the human trainers control them and shout instructions at them. The robot "gym" has replaced punching bags with heavily dented pieces of metal.
The robot boxing champion is Colossus, an unstoppable behemoth created by robot boxing whiz kid Tak Mashido, who always wins his bouts in the first round. Because these super-robots are so expensive, robot boxing has become the playground of the wealthy few, who can afford to spend vast sums developing sleek killing machines.
But there's also a seedier, more sleazy underbelly of the robot boxing world, where cheaper robots battle and everybody's just out to make a quick buck. And that's where Hugh Jackman's character, Charlie, makes his living — or tries to, living out of his truck and traveling around to small robot exhibition matches. He's a down-on-his-luck former boxer who was never really a contender himself — his main strength was that he never stopped coming in the ring, but that was also his greatest weakness. And now he sponsors robots that don't really have a chance either. Charlie owes too many people money and has burned too many bridges, and he's running out of chances.
And then, after Charlie's ex-girlfriend dies, he winds up with temporary custody of his son Max, whom he hasn't seen in years.
Max and Charlie form an odd-couple team in the robot boxing business, and the Max-Charlie relationship forms the heart of the movie, and even though we've seen a million father-son dramas, the entirely predictable saga of the father reconnecting with his child is really well played. Max isn't cloying or a pushover, which definitely helps. I can easily see Hugh Jackman nailing the role of a callous ten-time loser who finally takes his long-lost son under his wing. All in all, the characters are engaging enough that you care whether their dreams get crushed, and the robot boxing milieu is colorful and beautifully violent enough to recharge all of the old "sports movie" cliches. This could be the feel-good robo-violence movie of next year.