Director Shawn Levy‘s latest flick features one thousand pound robots battling it out in the squared-circle. In the near future humans get traded out for machines and the sport of boxing takes a rapid incline in popularity and relevance. Real Steel at its oily core is a film about a father and son relationship that has seen more downs than it has ups. The script calls for no emotions from either of its two wooden leads and while the robotic special effects look great, they’re just a cover-up for the films failed attempt at making an inspiring underdog film about a boy and his robot. Real Steel is scrap metal in the most expensive form.
Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is a washed up boxer who made a brief splash in his day, but is now focused on cruising around the countryside with broken down robots in hopes of winning small county fair fights. He puts his robots up against livestock and whatever else is capable of making him money and despite everyone calling him a nobody; he’s determined to keep on swinging. As for his personal life, he has a son named Max (Dakota Goyo) that he hasn’t seen in years.
Charlie’s an irresponsible person and an even worse dad. When Max’s mother dies Charlie uses his legal custody as a trick to get himself some quick cash. He makes a deal with the boys aunt and uncle. In exchange for watching the kid over the summer, Charlie will get $100,000 cash to help fund his robot adventures. He takes the kid and shows him the way of robot boxing, from underground zoo fights all the way up to the grand show. Real Steel tries to blend the all-to-familiar underdog story with the generic father/son bonding film, but it’s neither of them.
It’s instead a Michael Bay light show minus all of the action and explosions. It tries touching up on the relationship between Charlie and Max, but both characters are selfish and childish. Charlie wants no responsibility and he shows no interest in his kid. He only starts to help him when he realizes how much money can be made from his underdog robot. Not one scene tells us otherwise, making Charlie a dick from start to finish.
Max gets a pass for being childish, because after all, he is a child, but that doesn’t excuse him from being a generally annoying character. Some might fall for his cute little dances with his robot Atom, but I just saw another spoiled brat who happened to gain control of a deadly robot.
Hugh Jackman phones in as Charlie. He’s neither here nor there. He fits the part, but his character is such an asshole. He’s not a charming asshole that warms up to people; he’s instead just a low-life loser that’s only looking for the next get rich quick scheme.
Dakota Goyo isn’t all that better either. Most will enjoy his performance because he does the standard kid stuff, but I found it to be an emotionless wreck.
Real Steel is just a disaster from start to finish. It’s a film that takes on two story paths and tries mixing them with the futuristic robot boxing world. The underdog story feels cheated because there’s rarely a struggle for Charlie or Max. They win almost all of their matches without struggle and if you close your eyes for a second they’re already at the main event boxing for the championship. Underdog stories are about believing in the one that no one believes in, not winning everything without breaking a sweat.
The relationship between a father and his son is also the other core element and that too feels like a shortcut. They substitute real human emotion and interaction for robot boxing fights. Charlie only starts to love Max because he sees as a profitable source of income. I bet if Max would have lost all of his matches the film would have been 2 hours of Charlie laughing at Max, desperately waiting for the end of the summer to come so he can ship him off.
The special effects are great and the robots blend in with the real world environment very well, but that doesn’t cover up the non-existent story. It’s director Shawn Levy‘s job to bring everything together and he fails miserably. Real Steel isn’t even passable cinema because it’s a waste of production value. The story feels cheap and rushed while the special effects look clean and polished. You can tell where the importance was during the films production.
The 1080p video transfer at least makes up for what’s lacking in the film. The transfer features some intense clarity with lots of detail present. The robots look just as clear as the humans in this rock-solid transfer. Disney is known for treating their films with the utmost respect and care and Real Steel is no exception. Flawless.
The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is a rockin’ and sockin’ jam packed punch to the face. It’s vibrant and energetic with tons of action keeping balanced on all the surrounding channels. The dialogue comes through the front channel without any interrupted noise. The rest of the channels make good use of the robotic effects and various open-spaced locations.
Real Steel comes packaged with your standard promotional stuff, a few making-of documentaries here and a few deleted scenes there. The detailed look at how they designed and made the robots is worth the extra minutes, but most of the stuff is your basic run-of-the-mill padding to make the package look a little more extensive. Check out the fill list below.
- Real Steel Second Screen: Ringside with Director Shawn Levy
- Countdown to the Fight: The Charlie Kenton Story (HD)
- Making of Metal Valley (HD)
- Building the Bots (HD)
- Sugar Ray Leonard: Cornerman’s Champ (HD)
- Deleted & Extended Scenes (HD)
- Bloopers (HD)
- DVD Copy
- Digital Copy
I still can’t believe people are telling others they enjoyed Real Steel. Maybe if you look at it for its most basic values you might find something redeemable, but I tried going in with the lowest of low expectations and I still walked out displeased. The robots look nice, I’ll give the film that, but the story is such a waste.
I have no doubt that Hugh Jackman and youngster Dakota Goyo could have done better if they were actually given some interesting material to work with. Shawn Levy‘s direction is steady and effortless, which makes the overall film look sort of basic. If you can accept the idea of robotic boxing being popular in the next 10 years then maybe you’ll like the idea of a father reconnecting with his son over giant hunks of metal. I found nothing but a rusty relationship, but that’s just me.
The Blu-Ray is another solid effort by Disney. The video is clean, crisp and full of detail while the audio provides a sonic-boom of noise, coming at you from every channel. The special features aren’t all that engaging, but at least they’re on the disc. The package comes with a DVD and basic digital copy for the kids that are eager to take Real Steel on their next road trip. Let’s just hope it’s not with an unloving father or massive robot.
Real Steel is scrap metal in the most expensive form, but the disc looks and sounds fantastic.
Real Steel Blu-Ray Review