Vulture

Skip to content, or skip to search.

monday morning movie club

Monday Morning Movie Club: Let’s Discuss Six Key Aspects of Real Steel

Hugh Jackman's robot boxing movie Real Steel made $27.3 million this past week. (We were not the only ones looking forward to it!) And as one would expect of a feel-good movie about robot boxing, there is a lot to discuss. Herewith, six Real Steel talking points.

1. More robots doing the robot, please! In Real Steel, the adorable kid Max and the adorable robot Atom develop a pre-match dance routine that includes the two of them doing ... the robot. Robots have danced, and break-danced, before, but not nearly enough of them have done the robot. (Enough of them = all of them.) All cinematic robots should be required to do the robot going forward, with exceptions made for robots that do not have arms. (R2D2, you can just beat box for C3PO instead.) Real Steel is also to be commended for making Michael Bay slap himself in the forehead: Transformers not only should have gotten to the robots doing the robot dance first, but Bay also missed a real opportunity by not having Neil Armstrong do the moonwalk during his reconstructed moon walk.

2. Enough with rope-a-dope. In the infamous 1974 Ali versus Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle," Muhammad Ali used the "rope-a-dope" strategy to defeat George Foreman: It involves a fighter standing against the ropes with his arms up, in a protective stance, taking punches while his opponent exhausts himself, before the fighter eventually counter-attacks and uses his saved up energy to win. This is a very cinematic boxing strategy, essentially shortening the narrative arc of a sports movie into one fight. Our hero, the underdog, takes endless punishment, but somehow manages to survive and, eventually, triumph. But it's overused, having recently popped up in The Fighter (it was a technique the real-life Micky Ward used), as a joke in Arthur, and now in Real Steel. It was a nice touch that exhausted in Real Steel meant Zeus's power cell ran low, but enough is enough: It's time to familiarize people who know nothing about boxing with at least one other way to win a fight.

3. Is watching machines get beat up and destroyed as satisfying as watching people get beat up and destroyed? In the fictional world of Real Steel, robot boxing has taken off and supplanted human boxing because, Hugh Jackman's Charlie Kenton tells us, human audiences preferred to see boxing matches reach their logical, ultimate conclusion, with real violence and one contender left for dead. Apparently, boxing enthusiasts in the world of Real Steel are not bothered by the fact that, because they are robots, the violence isn't exactly real and neither are the "deaths." Are you? Did watching Zeus hammer a robot's face into a pancake, or Noisy Boy getting destroyed by the mohawked Midas scratch either the boxing, WWF, or MMA itch, or none of the above? Did you wince for Atom? Does watching robot-on-robot violence feel at all like watching human-on-human violence, or is it something much more empty — and much more fun?

4. The best air punching scene ever filmed. While the aforementioned dancing robot may be Real Steel's most immediate contribution to the pop culture vernacular, it also has another scene ripe for ripping off. During the final fight, Atom is in the ring with Zeus and on his last robot legs. Max turns Atom into "shadow mode," which means he moves when the human he is watching moves. Thus Hugh Jackman spends the final round of the match punching an invisible opponent, so Atom will imitate him and punch the very real Zeus. This results in about a twenty-second shot — the emotional climax of the movie, done in loving slow motion — of Jackman very seriously fighting the air. He does it with just a little smile on his face because he is a true professional. It's all the cardio of a training scene in Rocky, but with a victor!

1. More robots doing the robot, please! In Real Steel, the adorable kid Max and the adorable robot Atom develop a pre-match dance routine that includes the two of them doing ... the robot. Robots have danced, and break-danced, before, but not nearly enough of them have done the robot. (Enough of them = all of them.) All cinematic robots should be required to do the robot going forward, with exceptions made for robots that do not have arms. (R2D2, you can just beat box for C3PO instead.) Real Steel is also to be commended for making Michael Bay slap himself in the forehead: Transformers not only should have gotten to the robots doing the robot dance first, but Bay also missed a real opportunity by not having Neil Armstrong do the moonwalk during his reconstructed moon walk.

6. Random bits of Real Steel we've seen before.
• Zeus's head was modeled after Darth Vader.
• People accidentally flying down dangerous/fun mudslides was a regular feature of eighties movies (see: The Goonies, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Romancing the Stone). Hats off to Real Steel for bringing the slide back.
The Matrix's influence understandably looms large over action movies, computer movies, and alternate-reality movies. But why do homages to the horrible group rave scene from The Martix Reloaded keep appearing? In Real Steel, the only thing the underground robot boxing club was missing was Neo and Trinity having serious and meaningful sex in the corner.
Rise of Planet of the Apes gave us Gorilla vs. Helicopter. Real Steel gives us Bull vs. Robot. Here's hoping for more Animal vs. Machinery moments so long as — in a stark reversal from real life — the animals always win.