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September 01, 2011

‘Real Steel’: MMA with robots?

Posted in: Movies

When we first meet Hugh Jackman's character, Charlie Kenton, he is en route to a rural fair where he will match his robot, Ambush, against a massive rodeo bull. Director Shawn Levy says the fighter has seen better days: “He's a gnarled, well-traveled underground robot that fights in low-rung venues all across the Southwest and Texas. Ambush could use some repairs and paint touch-ups but still manages to topple opponents with a staggering upper cut and chest slam.” (DreamWorks II)

Kenton, a down-and-out former boxer looking for a way back up, is sure Noisy Boy, a onetime sensation on the World Robot Boxing League with a 15-1 record, will take him there. His designer in Japan infused him with “elements of the shogun tradition,” Levy says. The LED screens on Noisy Boy's fists also spell out tender messages in Japanese — such as “pain,” “oblivion” and “the end.” (DreamWorks II)

This is the “Rocky” character of the story. The other robots are bigger, sleeker and scarier, but Atom is the everyman who has a chance to become the people's champ — and the bond that will reunite Kenton with his estranged son, played by 12-year-old Dakota Goyo. There's a blank-slate quality to Atom's face, Levy says. “Atom's titanium mesh face cage, which allows only the blue LEDs of his eyes to come through, results in a robot whose very ambiguity allows us to project our assumptions — and, in the film, a boy's hopes — onto him.” (DreamWorks II)

In the underworld fights, the ethos is a punk-rock version of an illegal dogfight — and this robot fits right in, Levy says. “He rules an underworld Mecca known as the Crash Palace. He fights dirty and will do whatever it takes to win — his golden appearance is punctuated by a red, fiber-optic Mohawk. He is a fan favorite and never to be underestimated.” His signature move? That would be “The DeCapuccino,” a head-severing uppercut. (DreamWorks II)

He's the undefeated, reigning champion of the WRB, and he lives up to his thunderous name. He is pristine power — a 1,300-pound frame of steel and carbon fiber. Levy adds: “The only fully autonomous robot in the WRB, Zeus was funded by a family of Russian oligarchs, the Lemkovas, and designed by the same former boy wonder who created Noisy Boy, Tak Mashido.” (DreamWorks II)

Bailey Tallet, played by Evangeline Lilly, tells Max, played by Dakota Goyo, about his father Charlie Kenton's days as a top boxing contender in a scene from "Real Steel." (Melissa Moseley/DreamWorks)

Charlie Kenton, played by Hugh Jackman, trains his star robot boxer Atom in a scene from "Real Steel." (DreamWorks)

Charlie Kenton, played by Hugh Jackman, and Bailey Tallet, played by Evangeline Lilly, study the command matrix on the controller screen for robot boxer Noisy Boy in a scene from "Real Steel." (Melissa Moseley/DreamWorks)

Down-on-his-luck fight promoter Charlie Kenton, played by Hugh Jackman, and his son Max, played by Dakota Goyo, enter their robot Noisy Boy in a match at the Crash Palace in a scene from "Real Steel." (DreamWorks)

Charlie Kenton, played by Hugh Jackman, right, approaches Finn, played by Anthony Mackie, with an offer to enter his robot Noisy Boy in a fight to the death at Crash Palace in a scene from "Real Steel." (Melissa Moseley/DreamWorks)

Charlie Kenton, played by Hugh Jackman, and his son Max, played by Dakota Goyo, introduce their robot boxer Noisy Boy to a cheering crowd at Crash Palace in a scene from "Real Steel." (DreamWorks)

Eight-foot-tall robot boxer Midas pauses before entering the ring at Crash Palace for a match against Noisy Boy in a scene from "Real Steel." (DreamWorks)

Charlie, played by Hugh Jackman, instructs his bot Noisy Boy in a match against brawler Midas at Crash Palace in a scene from "Real Steel." (DreamWorks)

Noisy Boy lands a hard punch on Midas in a boxing match at Crash Palace in a scene from "Real Steel." (DreamWorks)

The mighty robot Zeus stands the undefeated champion of robot boxing in a scene from "Real Steel." (DreamWorks)

"Real Steel" director Shawn Levy sets up a shot on the set of the film. (DreamWorks)

"Real Steel" director Shawn Levy discusses a scene with the film's star Hugh Jackman on set at Crash Palace. (Greg Williams/DreamWorks)

This is a big year for gearbox souls — this happens to be the 90th anniversary of playwright Karel Capek’s “R.U.R.,” which introduced the term “robot” to the public imagination when it premiered in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1921. No one appreciates the word more than Hollywood, which has given us memorable mechanical people in films as diverse as “Metropolis,” “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” “Star Wars,” “The Terminator,” “Transformers” and “WALL-E,” to name just a hard-wired few. Next up on the assembly line — the Oct. 7 release “Real Steel.”

The sci-fi movie pairs leading man Hugh Jackman with “Night at the Museum” director Shawn Levy, but the real stars are the gleaming gladiators who bash each other to bits and bolts in prize fights that have become a national obsession in the film’s version of near-future America. The fights vary from nasty underground cage matches to heavily hyped media events that feel like a mash-up of UFC mixed-martial arts bouts and NASCAR. Here’s a ringside rundown of these hardware heroes:

"Real Steel" movie poster

Ambush

When we first meet Jackman’s character, Charlie Kenton, he is en route to a rural fair where he will match his robot, Ambush, against a massive rodeo bull. Levy says the fighter has seen better days: “He’s a gnarled, well-traveled underground robot that fights in low-rung venues all across the Southwest and Texas. Ambush could use some repairs and paint touch-ups but still manages to topple opponents with a staggering upper cut and chest slam.”

Noisy Boy

Kenton, a down-and-out former boxer looking for a way back up, is sure Noisy Boy, a onetime sensation on the World Robot Boxing League with a 15-1 record, will take him there. His designer in Japan infused him with “elements of the shogun tradition,” Levy says. The LED screens on Noisy Boy’s fists also spell out tender messages in Japanese — such as “pain,” “oblivion” and “the end.”

Atom

This is the “Rocky” character of the story. The other robots are bigger, sleeker and scarier, but Atom is the everyman who has a chance to become the people’s champ — and the bond that will reunite Kenton with his estranged son, played by 12-year-old Dakota Goyo. There’s a blank-slate quality to Atom’s face, Levy says. “Atom’s titanium mesh face cage, which allows only the blue LEDs of his eyes to come through, results in a robot whose very ambiguity allows us to project our assumptions — and, in the film, a boy’s hopes — onto him.”

Midas

In the underworld fights, the ethos is a punk-rock version of an illegal dogfight — and this robot fits right in, Levy says. “He rules an underworld Mecca known as the Crash Palace. He fights dirty and will do whatever it takes to win — his golden appearance is punctuated by a red, fiber-optic Mohawk. He is a fan favorite and never to be underestimated.” His signature move? That would be “The DeCapuccino,” a head-severing uppercut.

Zeus

He’s the undefeated, reigning champion of the WRB, and he lives up to his thunderous name. He is pristine power — a 1,300-pound frame of steel and carbon fiber. Levy adds: “The only fully autonomous robot in the WRB, Zeus was funded by a family of Russian oligarchs, the Lemkovas, and designed by the same former boy wonder who created Noisy Boy, Tak Mashido.”

Get a glimpse of the boxing bots in the gallery above, and be sure to click CAPTIONS ON.

– Geoff Boucher

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