It’s ‘Rock Em’ Sock Em’ Robots: The Movie’ slapped with a different title. There. Can we please move on?
At first glance, Real Steel appears to be a mindless popcorn flick. So no one was more surprised than me to discover how much heart it really has. It embodies every sports film you have ever seen, and its conclusion is just as predictable, but that doesn’t make the journey there any less entertaining.
It is the near future and traditional boxing has been replaced by a far more destructive form of entertainment, robot fighting. Our story begins with former boxer Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) who now makes his living booking small matches with his own robots. Unfortunately he is also a compulsive gambler and owes much more then he earns. He is soon notified that his ex-girlfriend, the mother of his 11-year-old son, has died.
Charlie quickly gives custody of Max (Dakota Goyo) to his ex-girlfriend’s sister. But on learning that her wealthy husband has a trip to Italy planned for the two of them, he makes a deal to take the kid back off their hands for the summer… for $100,000. Charlie, if you haven’t already figured this out, is a selfish scumbag.
Charlie uses the money he got to buy a new robot to use in some competitions while Max, as it turns out, is obsessed with the robot fights. Through a hilarious turn of events, he bribes Charlie into taking him along.
Unfortunately, things do not go as planned and Charlie is forced to steal parts from a junk yard where Max finds a sparring bot named Atom. Max grows attached to the bot and decides he wants to use him in fights. Despite Charlie’s protests, Max proves to be just as stubborn as his father and gets his way. This begins a shocking winning streak, and as Atom rises in the fighting robot ranks, a bond grows between Charlie and his son that neither one originally wanted.
Charlie and Atom are parallel characters, both fighters the world has abandoned. Both are given a chance to show their true potential in ways neither of them expected. By the end of the film, watching both characters come in sync (quite literally) is predictable, but like the rest of the movie, that does not stop it from being awesome.
The acting is top-notch, and everyone seems to be having a good time with their roles, especially Hugh Jackman. That he can actually make Charlie likeable is testament to his status as one of today’s most talented actors, and you find yourself looking forward to the emotional growth the character makes throughout the film.
An annoying child actor could be the kiss of death for any movie, but Dakota Goyo does a fairly good job of being smart without being sickening. Watching him go toe to toe with Hugh Jackman is amusing. Unfortunately his performance disintegrates into the stereotypical kid role later in the film, especially with the dancing. What is it with adding pointless dance scenes to movies nowadays?
Though Real Steel is more about the bond between a father and son then it is about fighting robots, the robots look amazing. Digital Domain did an incredible job bringing these epic fight scenes to life, but just as importantly, Legacy Effects did an equally amazing job building the animatronic bots that were used.
I don’t think any movie should rely completely on CG effects as a crutch, so having practical effects brings a certain amount of believability to the fantasy. Sometimes it was difficult to distinguish what was real and what was animated. The result never feels too cartoony, even during the fight scenes, and in 1080p HD quality, you can see every tiny detail: from decals to scratches in the paint.
The deleted scenes leave much to be desired and I can easily see why they were cut from the movie. Most comprise a story arc concerning Max and a butterfly pin and contribute little to the plot or tone of the film.
However, there are making-of features on the building of the physical props, the set itself and the VFX. These could have been longer, but still provide a lot of information on how the metal goliaths were brought to life.
A second screen option is also available where director Shawn Levy provides an inside perspective on certain scenes while the movie is playing. The neat thing about this is that you can actually have the second screen play on a separate device like your iPad.
The final verdict
Imagine Rocky with robots, and you’ve got Real Steel: a fun boxing film with a futuristic twist. Considering that it comes from the same director as Night at the Museum 2, to say that it’s surprisingly good is an understatement. While the Blu-ray extras are adequate, Michael Bay could have learned a thing or two from the movie itself.
Whether you love stories about an underdog having to fight against impossible odds, or just giant robots beating the crap out of each other, Real Steel is a film you must see.
The Real Steel two-disc Blu-ray/DVD was released today in the US. A worldwide release follows next month.