The 2011 film Real Steel, helmed by future Stranger Things director-producer Shawn Levy, was a strange genre mashup of sci-fi, sports thriller, and family play that probably should not have worked anywhere near as nicely as it did. According to an episode of the original Twilight Zone series entitled”Steel,” and adapted by legendary author and screenwriter Richard Matheson from his own short story, the flick told the story of Charlie (Hugh Jackman), an ex-boxer navigating a near-future by which boxing matches between actual humans are made illegal. Instead, hulking robots made especially for the game go toe-to-toe in the ring, and Charlie is a down-on-his-luck manager of one such system dubbed Ambush, which he loses on a bet as the film opens.
To make matters worse for the poor guy, he’s in the middle of a custody fight over his son Max (Dakota Goyo, whose character’s title is a clever homage to the title of the robot boxer because old Twilight Zone episode). Charlie’s ex-girlfriend, the boy’s mother, has recently expired, and Charlie — not just a major family man — works out a deal with Max’s wealthy aunt and uncle to give them total custody in exchange for $100,000. First, however, Charlie should keep Max for 3 months while the couple goes off on a planned holiday. As it turns out, the lad appears to be a big fan of robot boxing, and the two start to bond over Atom, a sparring machine with a distinctive”shadow” characteristic utilized by Max in a junkyard. Its ability to mimic competitions’ movements makes it an unlikely contender — and what type of sports film would this be when Atom didn’t get a shot in the undefeated world champion, Zeus?
Real Steel’s director and star are waiting for the right script
According to Levy, the answer is refreshingly simple: quality management. During a 2016 Q&A in an IMAX screening of Real Steel hosted by Collider, the director revealed that he, Jackman, also among the movie’s executive producers (some guy named Steven Spielberg) had begun kicking ideas around for a sequel before the first movie was even released. Following Real Steel became a box office success, several distinct screenwriters took cracks at the project — but none could make all the elements that Levy, Spielberg, and Jackman required come together. Particularly, the trio is determined not to only make the identical movie.
“The simple truth, the most concise truth I could express, is that […] it has proven difficult to come up with a sequel that does not feel like a re-hash of this very first film,” Levy explained. “Yeah, people wanted to see Atom conquer Zeus, I would like to watch Atom conquer Zeus, however, you do not want to retell the story of the type of alienation between Charlie and Max since that is the plot of the first film.”
Levy went on to say that while every draft of the Real Steel 2 script which had been commissioned had come near, none was able to stick the landing. “We have tried it a few times using several writers, and no draft got me, Hugh, and Steven all there to a yes in the same minute,” the director said. “It felt like it wasn’t quite enough to guarantee a new story and a fresh film. […] I had a bizarre experience watching it tonight since, on one hand, it felt quite good to revisit an old friend, but it also weirdly cemented my conviction that I just should not make a sequel unless I’m positive it will be better.”
Real Steel 2 could answer a burning question from the first movie
It’s difficult to deny that this is a pretty refreshing mindset. However, Levy could not resist teasing fans with what he obviously feels ought to be a key element of any true Steel sequel: the matter of whether or not Atom is, in some manner, sentient. In the world of the film, the fighting robots are pure automatons, with zero self-awareness — but Levy disclosed in the first draft of this script, and also the first cut of the movie, it was indicated that Atom may be different in this respect.
“You know that scene where it is pre-fight […] and Atom sees himself in the mirror? […] I have never shared this, but when the film first came out, people were like,’ I saw Atom move! Atom moved! He moved, right? He has consciousness?’ And I sort of fell back into this stock response of, ‘I don’t understand. It’s whatever you want to decide on your own.’ But when we took that scene, he transferred. He admits himself.”
Further, a scene that was scripted but not taken made it plain that Atom had a level of self-awareness. “There is a moment where, until the fifth round of the final struggle, they are like,’ We are throwing in the towel, it’s over,’ and Max and Charlie are evaporating, and we see Atom in the backdrop increase his finger and give such as one more time’ gesture. In the script, you are like,’ That is f***ing awesome! That’s got to be goosebumps! It affirms the sentient nature of Atom.’ However, as soon as we put the movie together, it felt just like […] that has been one level too fairy tale for that movie.”
Exploring this angle could certainly result in a far richer narrative, and one quite distinctive from its predecessor — but before a decided writer can bring it home, Real Steel 2 will remain in the realm of speculation. We’ll be keeping a lookout for any news, and we’ll keep you informed.