Like Rise of the Planet of the Apes earlier in the year, Real Steel is a film that, on paper, has no right to be any good. A father/son drama set in the near future against the backdrop of robot boxing is a ludicrous premise, one that seemed to signal the desperate death rattle of Hugh Jackman's non-X-Men career. To the surprise of many, myself included, it's actually pretty good. True, the story adheres to the sports movie template so religiously that it's totally predictable, but the film does something in the meantime that far too many popcorn movies don't do anymore: it makes the audience care about the characters.
Jackman's movie star charisma is contagious as he bickers, then connects, with both his estranged son (an utterly charming Dakota Goyo) and an ex-girlfriend (Lost‘s Evangeline Lily, bringing a nice balance of grit, spunk, and warmth). The nice chemistry and good humor are the main attraction; the science-fiction of robot boxing merely adds hard-hitting razzle-dazzle. Though Real Steel runs through the same old routines as many films that have come before it, it does those routines very well, with affection and flare.
CONTENT OVERVIEW: Real Steel is rated PG-13. It has plentiful robot violence; a man is jumped and beaten up (he fights back) in front of his young son. Several women wear bikini-style tops and cleavage-revealing dresses (at boxing matches). There are a handful of moderate profanities, one uttered by an eleven year old.
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: It's never too late to be a better father.
Jonathan Decker is the clinical director of Your Family Expert. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist, husband, and father of five. Jonathan earned a masters degree in family therapy from Auburn University as well as a bachelor's degree in clinical psychology from Brigham Young University. He is an actor, author, and television personality.