The 2011 movie Real Steel, helmed by future Stranger Things director-producer Shawn Levy, has been a strange genre mashup of sci-fi, sports thriller, and family drama that probably shouldn’t have worked anywhere near as well as it did. According to an episode of the original Twilight Zone series entitled”Steel,” and adapted by the legendary writer and screenwriter Richard Matheson from his own short story, the film told the story of Charlie (Hugh Jackman), an ex-boxer navigating a near-future in which boxing matches between actual people have been made illegal. Rather, hulking robots designed especially for the game go toe-to-toe from the ring, and Charlie is a down-on-his-luck director of one such machine dubbed Ambush, which he loses a bet as the film opens.
To make matters worse for the poor man, he’s in the center of a custody battle over his son Max (Dakota Goyo, whose character’s title is a clever homage to the name of this robot fighter because old Twilight Zone episode). Charlie’s ex-girlfriend, the boy’s mother, has recently expired, and Charlie — not exactly a big family guy — works out a deal with Max’s rich aunt and uncle to grant them total custody in exchange for $100,000. First, though, Charlie must keep Max for three months while the few go off to a planned vacation. As it happens, the lad happens to be a big fan of robot boxing, and the two begin to bond within Atom, a sparring machine with a distinctive”shadow” characteristic utilized by Max in a junkyard. Its ability to mimic opponents’ movements makes it an unlikely competition — and what sort of sports film would this be if Atom did not get a shot at the undefeated world champion, Zeus?
Real Steel has been a surprise hit, raking in almost $300 million at the global box office according to Box Office Mojo, also earning an Academy Award nomination because of its visual effects. It was a hell of a rock’em, sock Celtics audience pleaser — therefore, over a decade later, why has a sequel failed to materialize?
Real Steel’s director and star are waiting for the right script
According to Levy, the solution is simple: quality management. During a 2016 Q&A at an IMAX screening of Real Steel hosted by Collider, the manager 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 released. Following Real Steel became a box office success, many distinct screenwriters took cracks in the project — but not one could make all of the elements that Levy, Spielberg, and Jackman required to come together. Particularly, the trio is decided to not just make the same film again.
“The fact, the most concise truth I can say, is that […] it’s proven difficult to come up with a sequel that does not feel like a re-hash of this first film,” Levy explained. “Yeah, people wanted to see Atom beat Zeus, I’d like to watch Atom beat Zeus, however, you don’t want to retell the story of the type of alienation between Charlie and Max since that’s the plot of this first film.”
Levy went on to say that while every draft of this Real Steel two script which was commissioned had come close, none managed to stick the landing. “We’ve tried it a couple of times with some writers, without a draft obtained me, Hugh, and Steven there to some yes at the same moment,” the director said. “It all felt as though it wasn’t quite enough to promise a new story and a fresh film. […] I had a weird experience watching it tonight since, on one hand, it felt quite great to revisit an old friend, but it also reluctantly cemented my certainty that I just should not make a sequel unless I am positive it is going to be better”
Real Steel 2 could answer a burning question from the first movie
It is difficult to deny that this is a fairly refreshing attitude. But, Levy couldn’t resist teasing fans with that which he feels should be an integral element of any Real Steel playoffs: the question of whether Atom is, in some manner, sentient. In the realm of the movie, the battling robots are pure automatons, with zero self-awareness — but Levy disclosed that in the first draft of the script, and even the very first cut of the movie, it was implied that Atom may be different in this regard.
“You know that scene where it is pre-fight […] and Atom sees himself in the mirror? […] I’ve never shared this, but when the movie first came out, people were like,’ I watched Atom move! Atom moved! Did he move? He’s consciousness?’ And I kind of fell back into this stock response of,’ I don’t understand. It’s whatever you would like to decide for yourself.’ But when we took that scene, he moved. He admits himself.”
Further, a scene that was scripted but not shot made it plain that Atom needed a level of self-awareness. “There’s a moment at which before the fifth round of the final struggle, they are like,’ We’re throwing in the towel, it is over,’ and Max and Charlie are arguing, and we see Atom in the background increase his finger and provide just like one more time’ gesture. In the script, you are like,’ That is f***ing amazing! 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 degree too fairy tale for that movie.”
Researching this angle could certainly result in a much richer narrative, and one very distinctive from its predecessor — but before some decided writer can make it home, Real Steel two will remain in the realm of speculation. Of course, we’ll be keeping a lookout for any information, and we’ll keep you informed.