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Atom is the hero of this story, the battered, discarded training bot that Hugh Jackman's washed-up fighter, Charlie Kenton, and his estranged son Max (Dakota Goyo) discover embedded in the dirt while making a midnight raid on a junkyard. Controlled remotely through a function that allows him to mimic his operator's movements, Atom becomes a way for Charlie to start throwing his own punches again.
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At the beginning of Real Steel, Jackman is as low as you can get in the world of robot boxing. He has a ramshackle, rusting machine named Ambush who is not even suited for fellow mechanical opponents. Instead, Ambush is sent staggering into a Texas state fair to be ripped apart by a bull.
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Jackman gets what he thinks is a chance at redemption when he invests everything he has in a Japanese-designed robot named Noisy Boy, a former high-profile brawler who has seen better days, but at least looks sleek and menacing. Jackman's character takes him to an underground match at a warehouse called The Crash Palace, hoping to make a few bucks. But he's unprepared for what's waiting for them.
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The movie's legitimate world of robot boxing is overseen by a league, with television contracts, media attention, and very strict rules. Off-the-grid matches like the kind held at The Crash Palace are easier to break into, but tend to attract lesser fighters, like this unnamed bot, who calls to mind The Muppets' Beaker, in robot form.
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This is Albino, seen in passing as Jackman and Noisy Boy strut toward the ring. (I know it's just a machine, but doesn't this one look scared?) His unique function is a head that can slide down from the shoulders to the center of its chest on that black track — but why? To make it a little easier to pulverize?
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What's waiting for Charlie and Noisy Boy at The Crash Palace is this guy: Midas — a punishing machine with a head designed like a Roman warriors helmet and fists that will knock opponents back to the stone age. Noisy Boy could be a contender, but at this point his operator simply isn't. Jackman's character thinks he has the upper hand, but instead his machine gets the back of Midas' fist.
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When Max drags Atom into his father's world (literally digging the fighter from the Earth despite his father's objections) the first major skirmish they enter is a similarly unsanctioned event held at an abandoned zoo. There, the fighter is even more of a haphazard creation than many of The Crash Palace bots, such as this guy. Metro is a Frankenstein-type automaton built out of mismatched parts. He's no weakling though. Metro wields one arm that is just a giant sledgehammer. Watch out for his signature move: clobbering your robot into the ground like a nail.
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As Atom attracts attention from the World Robot Boxing league, he begins to enter higher profile tournaments, facing off — literally — with this two-headed brutalizer known as Twin Cities. It's not so easy to defeat a rival who needs to be knocked out twice.
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The ultimate opponent, the reigning champion of robot boxing, is this formidable fellow — Zeus. He's the top of his class, immense, finely crafted, and seemingly indestructible. He's Apollo Creed, Mohammed Ali and a Ferrari rolled into one. But he also fights fair. When you are the god of all robots, you don't need to cheat.