Last week, I kicked off a periodic series on movies that portray single dads in a realistic way. I chose The Pursuit of Happyness, a 2006 film featuring Will Smith as a single dad who takes custody of his 5-year-old son after a divorce.
This week, I picked Real Steel, a new film that just opened in theaters. I took my 11-year-old son, Connor, with me because I’d heard the movie had a good father-son message.
It does. The film stars Hugh Jackman of X-Men fame as a down-on-his-luck guy who abandoned his son at birth and has never been a part of his life. The boy, now 11, has been raised by Jackman’s former girlfriend.
When the movie opens, he learns that the boy’s mother has died. Her sister wants custody of his son, but Jackman has to agree.
He’ll gladly do so – for the right price. The single dad makes a deal with her rich husband, relinquishing custody of the boy for $100,000.
Obviously, Jackman’s character, Charlie Kenton, isn’t great father material. And he doesn’t intend to change.
But Jackman faces one hurdle before he can turn over his son to the couple. He has to keep him for a month while they take a planned European vacation.
You may guess what happens next. Jackman, after initially resenting the boy’s arrival, begins to bond with him. The son, played by Dakota Goyo, also warms to his dad.
What brings them together? Their shared love of robot boxing. Yes, robot boxing.
The film is set in the future, when human boxing has been replaced by matches between giant robots controlled ringside by their owners. Think larger-than-life video games.
The single dad, a former professional boxer, now owns a second-rate robot that has no chance to win big. His son, as it turns out, has an incredible knack for electronics and manages to build a top-notch robot himself.
The metallic fighting machine rises through the professional robot boxing ranks and gets a chance at the title. Here, the movie takes on a Rocky feel: underdog fighter takes on the invincible champion.
I won’t tell you the outcome, but the fight sequences are surprisingly realistic and entertaining. However, the key to appreciating the movie is to focus on the evolving relationship between Jackman and his son. The robot boxing backdrop, really, is secondary.
As a relationship movie (not a futuristic fighting movie), Real Steel merits a thumbs up. Many of us know a dad like Jackman’s character – a man who has neglected his parenting responsibilities.
Some men never step up to the plate, but Jackman does. He eventually apologizes to his son for abandoning him and struggles to build a relationship.
After such a long absence, Jackson doubts his ability to be a good father – even if he has the desire. But he fights through his feelings of inadequacy. Eventually, he surprises himself – and others – by becoming a committed dad whom his son respects.
Bravo! I like movies that show single dads doing the right thing.
In real life, as in the movies, some men have natural fathering instincts. Others, like Jackman’s character, do not.
But it doesn’t matter where we start as a dad. It’s how we grow and where we finish.
With the right desire, any dad can overcome mistakes and write a new story with his children. The key is to start soon.
Time slips away, and one day it’ll be too late.
Photo courtesy of Real Steel Official Website.