“Courage is stronger than steel.”
It’s the year 2020 and robot boxing is the sport of choice. It’s bigger, louder and more about the technology you can buy than the strength you can bring to the ring.
In Real Steel Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman), a retired boxer, is trying to make it big in this harsh world of metal on metal, throwing whatever robot he can into a fight. But when he loses his last bot to a nasty brawl, it seems like the game is over.
And then he finds himself suddenly in charge of his estranged son, Max, for the summer. While the pair searches for spare parts in a junkyard, Max finds a fully intact, but older, robot. After naming him Atom, he insists that Charlie teach the robot how to really box–not just the showy stuff that the championship bots seem to do. Reluctantly, Charlie agrees, but is Atom tough enough to make in the big leagues?
This movie, of course, has stunning special effects (they used motion capture to get the robot fights to look realistic), but the real gem is in the fact that the story line of a father learning to fight for something real (i.e. his son) is not lost amidst the abundant scenes of robot boxing. It’s still real and relevant and might be able to produce a few tears from all but the black-hearts out there. A must-see this fall!
Here’s the run down:
Drama: Father-son, tug-on-your-heart-strings emotion is ongoing, as they learn how to fight with robots and for their previously non-existent relationship.
Romance: Stay tuned for romantic sparks that fly between Hugh Jackman’s character Charlie and Bailey, played by Evangeline Lilly.
Action: We’re talking edge of your seat here. You will be rooting for Atom, the underdog, the whole way through.
Hugh Jackman: Yep. That’s right. We made him his own category. Because who can ever get enough of Wolverine?!?!
Faze got a chance to chat with the director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum, Date Night) and Hugh Jackman (X-Men Origins: Wolverine)–in person (!!!!)–about their thoughts on this underdog story of true courage.
What about this story attracted you as a director?
SL: I have made a lot of comedies that, thankfully, have done very well. And I have been waiting for an opportunity to do something in a different tone. So, the opportunity to stretch and grow in another genre, action-drama, was thrilling. I’ve literally been waiting 6/7 movies, hoping that the right people were noticing. Turns out one of them was Spielberg. He called me up. And the chance to show and stretch a different muscle–that was big.
Secondly was the challenge of combining a big, high-concept (i.e. robot boxing) with a genuinely humanist story–that’s what interested me. I did not want to make a pure robot movie. I wanted to make a movie that was emotional as well.
What was the biggest challenge for you on this film?
SL: It was a two-part thing. I’ve done visual effects movies, obviously, the museum movies, but the complexity of these visual effects was mind-boggling. I knew nothing about motion capture when I started. So, the first few weeks of me making this movie, I sat in meetings literally not even understanding the words that people were using. It was like what I remember feeling like in chemistry or physics, where you’re so lost that you want to giggle. And then I’m like, ‘Okay, well clearly mo-cap is the only way to do this movie exceptionally, so I need to buckle down and learn it like a new subject.’ So I just did. That was a big challenge.
But the irony is that then, as soon as I was savy in the technology, the challenge was never letting the technology overwhelm the priority of story. So every day I would just remind me and my team, we use these tools; it’s not about them, though. It’s about father-son redemption story. And keeping them in balance, that was a challenge.
You used real robots though, as well as adding the motion-capture ones after filming. Why was it important to have both?
SL: To be unique, we had to be a humanist story. And the key to that would be the father-son redemption, this underdog story. The emotionality of those performances was critical–the reality of those performances. You don’t get reality when you ask your actor to pretend opposite a tennis ball on a stick. You definitely don’t get reality when you ask a 10-year-old to pretend opposite a tennis ball on a stick.
By building real, romote-controlled robots [we get that reality]. Every scene with Dakota and the robot, Atom, the reason those scenes are magical is because that real 10-year-old boy loved that robot. I would tell Dakota, “Just move however you want.” Then I would go whisper to the puppeteer, “Whatever that kid does, you mirror him.” So those scenes where you see Dakota like, “OMG this thing is happening!”–it’s cause it was happening.
You worked with Sugar Ray Leonard to train for this movie, who is widely accepted as the best boxer of all times. What was it working with a legend?
HJ: It was a huge thrill. I’m a sports-nut, so I was completely star-struck meeting him…There’s something about him. Not only was he a champ, but the kind of champ he was, he still looks like he’s never been hit once. He looks ten years younger than me…. He was just so generous with his time. The only time I really saw that hard-nosed champ was as he was leaving me. He said, “Man, my name is on this movie. Don’t make me look bad.” And then he really gave me the stare.
What was it like on set with all the robots and with Dakota, who plays your son?
HJ: I would work with Dakota on every film, if I could. That kid is unbelievable. He’s a great actor. The camera loves him…. It’s a lot of pressure, particularly a big movie like this; it’s pressure. And this kid had to dance in front of 5,000 people–it was one of first things he did. For him it was just effortless. He just handled it so well. But, the robots, they’re awesome. And they don’t eat any of the catering–that’s all I care about. As long as I don’t have to share any of the food at the buffet. [laughs]
How did your kids react to the film?
They both loved it. They loved the robots. I think, secretly, they kind of loved seeing me allow the kid to drink as many sodas as he wanted–kind of be, really, not a good dad. And I remember my son, in the middle of the movie, when I was kissing Evangeline, he was saying, “You’re going to be in trouble.” [laughs]
Reel Steel is now available on DVD and Blu-ray. Check it out!