{2jtab: Movie Review}

Real Steel - Movie Review


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3 Stars

There are a million reasons to list explaining why Real Steel shouldn’t work.  Much will be made of the obvious comparisons between Over the Top and its many Rocky punching bag beats.  So much so, the consensus will be that Stallone should receive some sort of monetary kickback for the film.  Even more will be made for its shameless heroics and beyond predictable storyline.  Director Shawn Levy plunges his hand deep into an endless bag of tricks and pauses not once to reveal what we already know is going to happen yet - when all is said and done - still we cheer; still we clap; still we celebrate its metallic heart.

The big question for those who find themselves sneering at the commercials alone is why?  How the hell can something so predictable and so pedestrian actually strike an honest chord?  This schmaltzy future father-and-son tale can’t actually work, can it?  Yes, it can.  Here’s why: because sometimes we can’t always be hardcore; because sometimes the soft part of our heart needs to get punched; because sometimes – as is the case with Real Steel – movies can balance what’s familiar with good emotion and produce something inoffensive to our intelligence and still be enjoyed.

In the near-future the sport of boxing is done in the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots ring.  People flock to stadiums to see robots duke it out; they also attend underground arenas to see the bolts fly.  A mostly shirtless Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) plays a down-and-out boxer and sometimes father who must work and work and work again to earn the respect of his son, Max (Dakota Goyo), after trying to orphan him with his sister (Hope Davis).  Little does Charlie know that she’s going to need a babysitter…for an entire summer.

When Max discovers Atom – a specialized fighting robot – he convinces Charlie to give him a shot at the title as he can mimic the moves and grooves of those in front of him.  Written by John Gatins (but based upon a Richard Matheson story and Twilight Zone episode) and also starring Evangeline Lilly and Anthony Mackie, Real Steel knows exactly what it is: corny.

And it sells it well.  Maybe too well; it’s hard to expect much from the formulaic narrative and everything is gloss.  There’s nothing too terribly deep below the surface and there’s little reason you should dig.  Sometimes fun can be explored in the depths; most of the time, features like this one don’t plunge the depths.  Is that a problem?  It is and it isn’t.  We have a new look to the same story.  Battling robots.  Cool.  Yet, there’s really nothing new to the story.

From the title to the film’s beginning to the climactic shadow-boxing end, Real Steal is all about adding the pop to its own brand of corn.  Even Goyo knows this and his Bieber-like enthusiasm is all onboard with bouts of dancing and dewey-eyed emotion.  Jackman’s gruff side is on display early on and then the charm comes alive when a real father-and-son relationship is established between himself and Goyo.  This bit of robot futurama is what I wanted from that other franchise with robots in it.

This standard tale of boxing and redemption really has no unexpectedness to its pathos, yet, there isn’t a moment that seems artificial.  I guess that’s the real surprise; the action seems real and so does the calculated emotion and its characters.  The metallic boxing scenes are exciting and clangingly loud thanks to Sugar Ray Leonard’s choreography; there’s a sleekness to the robot effects that make Atom and Midas almost human.  These performances are matched by the human cast; everything seems perfectly plausible.

Real Steel won’t win awards; not every movie should.  It won’t win over everybody or every critic either, but when I found myself getting emotionally worked up over two stupid robots bopping each other with one jab after the next inside the ring, I knew Levy was onto something…real.  Yes, the movie is obnoxious with its sentimentality and familiarity and, yes, there will be the obvious sequel but there is no doubt that Real Steel is certainly much more than meets the eye.

{2jtab: Film Details}

Real Steel - Movie ReviewMPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence, intense action and brief language.
Director: Shawn Levy
: John Gatins
Hugh Jackman; Dakota Goyo; Evangeline Lilly; Anthony Mackie; Hope Davis
Genre: Action | Sci-fi
Courage is stronger than steel.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Charlie was a top contender. Number 2 in the world!"
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date: October 7, 2011
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
January 24, 2012

Synopsis: A future-set story where robot boxing is a popular sport and centered on a struggling promoter (Jackman) who thinks he's found a champion in a discarded robot. During his hopeful rise to the top, he also discovers he has an 11-year-old son who wants to know his father.

{2jtab: Blu-ray Review}

Real Steel - Blu-ray Review

Component Grades

Blu-ray Disc
3 stars

5 Stars

Blu-ray Experience
4 stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - January 24, 2011
Screen Formats: 2.35:1
: English SDH, French, Spanish
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit); French: DTS-HD HR 7.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Three-disc set (1 BD, 2 DVDs); Digital copy (on disc); DVD copy
Playback: Region A

As strong as the metallic bots that populate its boxing ring, Disney’s exceptional handling of this 1080p presentation is a truly vibrant affair. The picture is pristine and sharp around the edges.  With fine detail at a maximum plus level, this is almost Disney’s best looking transfer yet…just barely edging out The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Black and shadow levels are strong and consistent throughout the feature and never over compensate with blatant artificiality.  Yes, Real Steel looks to be as authentic as natural light. Texture is rippled with great detail in low-light and in the shadows and, as a result, color levels are as close as to the real thing as possible.  CGI and green screen effects sometimes soften the image, but – overall – this is a solid release. The soundstage, presented here in a lavish 7.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, is a mix that recreates your basic theatrical experience.  It dazzles, swamps, and surrounds the audience with great bass-level punches and the clearest of robotic pings. Dialogue is consistently clear and filled with strong aural dynamics that makes for an entertaining ringside experience.



  • Located on the second disc of Disney’s two disc affair, director Shawn Levy’s commentary is a solid offering.  It is filled with insight about the film’s origins (as a Twilight Zone episode) and how certain shots were composed.  Levy allows some extended pauses to go by pronounced, but does a nice job of providing anecdotal information when necessary about this family flick.

Special Features:

Disney always honors its buyers with great attention to detail with their blu-ray release and the lavishly loaded Real Steel is no different.  Yes, Sugar Ray makes an appearance and gets the credit he deserves for the choreography of the fighting sequences.  That’s only one of the surprises this fully-loaded release offers. The blu-ray also features a supplemental that will have fans of the movie cheering as they witness an extra bit of the House of Mouse’s mojo with Real Steel Second Screen. It’s a bonus feature that allows the audience to synch their iPad/computer with the movie in order to access a pop-up and peel back look into the mechanics of the film. A fake documentary about Charlie Kenton also offers a look at Jackman’s character. Featurettes focus on the building of the robots and the look of the film and do a good job of exploring the cutting-edge technology utilized by the film to make its robots and atmosphere of a not too-distant future feel oh so very authentic. The DVD, found on the second disc, offers the feature film, the commentary, and a two-minute blooper real.

  • ‘Real Steel’ Second Screen (127 min)
  • The Charlie Kenton Story (13 min)
  • Making of Metal Valley (14 min)
  • Building the Bots (5 min)

{2jtab: Trailer}