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January 24, 2012


On DVD/Blu-ray – Review: Real Steel (2011)


There comes a point, usually very early in a film when the audience understands that it needs to suspend disbelief; and it does so willingly. In Real Steel, it was the premise alone that made me suspend my disbelief and just from watching the trailers. The basic idea that the logical next step in the evolution of the blood sport- the blood sport starting with the gladiatorial arenas in ancient Rome and ending up in our current times with hockey and boxing- is robots beating the tar out of one another in a ring is preposterous. When flesh and blood are removed from the equation, it’s no longer a blood sport, and therefore robot fighting can’t be the next logical step. But Real Steel makes you forget that from early on. Unless you want to hate the film anyway. In which case, why would you watch it?

Real Steel, not really based on the Richard Matheson-written episode from the original Twilight Zone, takes place in a future that resembles our present quite a lot but has large robots fighting one another in the ring instead of people. The robots’ owners control them from a short distance via remote controls and joysticks and there’s a lot of money to be made. Well, of course there is, it’s the only sport left.

Early in the film we meet Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman), a down on his luck trucker who’s on a long losing streak. He also fights robots in arenas for a living and shortly after losing his latest robot (to a real live bull no less!), he hears news that his ex had passed away and that he can receive custody of his son Max (Dakota Goyo), whom he hadn’t seen in many years. He then proceeds to blackmail his ex’s sister’s husband by selling his son back to him for a ridiculously large amount of money, but he has to keep the kid for the summer first.

Charlie and Max never get along and hate each other, not like siblings do but real hate. Together they try to make ends meet by entering another robot into a fight, a fight that Charlie once again loses. Ironically, Max seems to have a far more extensive knowledge of fighting robots than Charlie. Then Max meets Atom. Atom’s a discarded sparring robot that Charlie allows Max to fix and train. After entering him in an unlicensed boxing match, Max and Atom win and they begin to ride a winning streak all the way to the top of the professional boxing circuit.

Roughly during the middle of the film it takes a different direction by turning the rags to riches story into a father/son bonding experience, while throwing a bit of Rocky into the mix. It’s unexpected but it kind of works. The special effects in the film are terrific, using a seamless combination of animatronics and CGI and the fights never look fake. However, for the life of me I don’t understand why everyone has programmed their robots to pretend like they can feel pain.

I don’t like Dakota Goyo’s performance because he’s mostly an annoying brat, ironically brought out by his deadbeat father, and when he’s successful in the boxing circuit he tends to scream more and grow even more annoying. I also didn’t like Hugh Jackman’s performance. The character of Charlie is a poisonous human being on paper, but Jackman doesn’t convey him as such. He’s a bad father and a lousy human being but he’s not a truly horrible person and perhaps another actor that’s capable of delivering a more concentrated dramatic performance would have pulled that character off with more conviction.

There are many loose threads in the story, many suggestions and ideas thrown here and there that end up nowhere, and many inconsistencies but they’re not so bad that one should avoid this film. The robot boxing alone is a good enough reason to watch it. What Michael Bay has failed to deliver in three films totaling, roughly seven and half hours Real Steel has managed to pull off in two hours. Yes, the running time is long but it only promises more robots and more robot fighting.

The DVD contains The Making of Metal Valley, Building the Bots, deleted and extended scenes, and bloopers and outtakes. There are also two-disc and three-disc Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy sets that also contain an audio commentary with director Shawn Levy, Countdown to the Fight: The Charlie Kenton Story, Sugar Ray Leonard: Cornerman’s Champ, and Real Steel Second Screen: Ringside with Director Shawn Levy.

Original Commentary Track review of Real Steel by Helen Geib.

New releases this week: 50/50, Mozart’s Sister, Paranormal Activity 3, Restless, The Whistleblower

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jan 24 2012

    You make a great point about the innate absurdity of the “bloodless sport” premise.

    The performances look a lot better when you consider that the target audience is children. If Jackman played the character as written, it wouldn’t be a family film anymore. I found the kid a bit annoying at times as well but he’s playing to his age cohort, not to me.

  2. Jan 24 2012

    The film needed to be successful, like all films do and the first step the producers took, a wise step, was to take the original title “Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots” and rename it to Real Steal. Then they Disney-fied it, because the film’s Disney backed and made sure that all audiences could watch it.
    The grand irony is that if they would have made a darker film, it would have failed just because of the content and delivery. It’s been a successful film, made more than its budget back, and is somewhat beloved by most of the people that have watched it.

    It’s terribly flawed but was never boring, and even though I’m not a boxing nut I liked he robot fights. hey were convincing (when they weren’t pretending to get hurt).

    I’m beginning to dislike Jackman more and more… his one really good performance was in the brilliant Darren Aronofsky film The Fountain and I never liked Wolverine on paper and on celluloid. *sigh*

  3. Jan 25 2012

    Real Steel is a blast, an unabashed crowd-pleaser that mixes Rocky, Transformers, video games and father-son bonding to great, if corny, effect. Still didn’t need to be 127 minutes though. Nice review Nir.

  4. Jan 26 2012

    Thanks, Dan. And I agree about the film’s runtime. :O)