Balancing gritty action and emotional heart, Real Steel is an inspiring and visually stunning film that takes audiences on an action-packed journey. Set in the not-so-distant future where boxing has gone high-tech and 2000-pound, 8-foot-tall steel robots have taken over the ring, the film stars Hugh Jackman (X-Men franchise, Australia) as Charlie Kenton, Evangeline Lilly (TV’s Lost, The Hurt Locker) as Bailey Tallet, Dakota Goyo (Thor) as Max Kenton, Kevin Durand (I Am Number Four, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) as Ricky, and Anthony Mackie (The Adjustment Bureau, The Hurt Locker) as Finn. Real Steel tells the tale of a washed-up boxer named Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman), who scrapes by as a small-time robot-fight promoter as he tries to make a comeback both as a fighter and as a father.
In director Shawn Levy’s Real Steel, the year is 2020 and in this not so distant time the sport of boxing has been taken over by robots. Humans were phased out since bloodthirsty audiences wanted more spectacle and more punishing fights that would have endangered humans so robots are now the big draw. For a former boxer like Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman), that change brought nothing but trouble to him. He’s in debt to loan sharks, he doesn’t have a viable robot boxer, his on again off again girlfriend Bailey (Evangeline Lilly) isn’t happy with him, and then he find out that the girlfriend he left long ago has died and that he has a son named Max (Dakota Goya) that wants to reconnect with him.
Charlie’s life is already spinning out of control before Max re-enters his life since he bet everything he had (and a lot more that he didn’t have) on his last robot named Ambush in the hopes that Ambush could defeat a bull. The owner of the Bull is a ruthless promoter named Rickey (Kevin Durand) who warns Charlie that he better pay his debt if he loses or he will regret it. Unfortunately for Charlie, he does lose because in the brief instant Charlie starts trying to impress some girls, the bull starts destroying Ambush. Knowing that there’s no way that he can pay his $20,000 loss, Charlie hightails it out of the fair before Ricky and his men can catch him.
Now on the run from Ricky and others, it’s at that point Charlie learns about the death of his ex-girlfriend and the fact that he is required to attend a court hearing to determine the fate of his son Max. When he arrives at the hearing he meets his ex-girlfriend’s sister Debra and her wealthy husband Marvin. Debra wants custody of Max since she doesn’t think very highly of Charlie and Marvin is intent on making his wife happy but at the same time doesn’t want Max to accompany them on their second honeymoon. When he tries to talk to Charlie about making a deal, Charlie tells him that he will waive his parental rights for $100,000 and offers to take Max off their hands so Marvin can get his second honeymoon kid free. Marvin agrees and pays Charlie half up front which Max witnesses and grows angry about.
Charlie never really had any intention on taking care of Max for the duration as he was counting on his ex Bailey (who inherited the gym that Charlie grew up in) to watch Max for him. All Charlie wants to do is buy a new robot so he can try to win some money quickly to pay off the loan sharks before it gets even more serious than it already is. Bailey is just as disappointed as every one else is of Charlie but she becomes friends with Max. With his new-found money, Charlie is able to buy a once famous robot named Noisy Boy that he takes to an illegal robot fight club to fight the current champ known as Midas. Thanks to Charlie’s inexperience with the robot’s control scheme and his overconfidence, Noisy Boy loses and is completely destroyed by Midas along with Charlie’s dreams of paying off his debts.
Left with little choice but to break into a junkyard to salvage parts to build a new robot, Charlie and Max surreptitiously steal parts until Max accidentally falls down a slippery slope only to be caught from going over a chasm by a half buried robot’s arm. Max demands that they take the robot with them but Charlie makes him do all of the work. After returning to the gym, they discover that the robot, named Adam, is an obsolete Generation-2 sparring bot that was designed to take a lot of punishment. Atom also has another feature that sets him apart from other robots – he can shadow movements and remember the sequences and use them in fights later. Max convinces Charlie to let Atom fight in an underground fight and amazingly enough, Atom wins the fight and Charlie recoups some of his money.
Mazx turns out to be a little mechanical genius and he upgrades Atom to accept vocal commands, the two start to train Atom in their respective ways. Charlie drills in some boxing routines while Max teaches the robot how to dance with him which raises their popularity with audiences. Before long, they are offered the chance to an official sanctioned fight with the WRB against a robot named Twin Cities. Atom wins again thanks to Charlie’s boxing advice and Max takes the opportunity to challenge the world champion Zeus which is owned by Farra Lemkova who had tried to buy Atom before the match before being rebuffed by Max. The Kentons’ good fortune is short-lived since Ricky and his men ambush them and beat Charlie up and steal their winnings. Finally realizing how much danger he’s putting Max in, Charlie takes Max back to Debra and Marvin and leaves him behind along with the other half of the money that he no longer wants.
The rest of the movie is completely formulaic but at the same time it still works thanks in large part to Hugh Jackman’s performance. Not many actors could still engender goodwill after selling their son for $100,000, enlists a child to steal parts, and takes him to underground fights, but somehow Jackman pulls it off effortlessly. Charlie Kenton may be a scumbag overall, but underneath all of his selfish actions there is still a good man within. The appearance of Max is the catalyst that saves Charlie’s soul and he starts to realize how low he’s allowed himself to sink and his mistreatment of those that cared about him. Of course, he’s going to go back for his son and obviously he’s going to try to redeem himself, but despite being able to recognize every emotional signpost along this well-traveled road, it still worked for me.
Seeing Charlie reconnect with Bailey and even more importantly Max and then witnessing their mistrust and antagonism give way to love for each other was touching. Especially when the unlikely duo take on the massive Zeus at the end of the movie in a fight that for all intents and purposes, should be a suicide mission. The robot fights are all impressive (Sugar Ray Leonard was an adviser) but it’s the final fight that is the most emotionally involving, especially when for the final round, Charlie employs the shadow-boxing mode and essentially fights the last round himself. Being able to see his father boxing in all his glory the way he used to, makes Max incredibly proud and we see the full redemption of Charlie as he we see him at his best once again.
Disney triumphs again with an impeccable 1080p (2.35:1) transfer that is simply amazing to see. The clarity and detail on display is very impressive and I especially liked seeing all of the many details on each robot along with the realistic sheen on their frames. This transfer is beautiful to see as it shows off every strand of hair, every spot of rust, and every piece of textured clothing in a pristine fashion. Colors are vibrant and plentiful and black levels are suitably inky and dark. Flesh tones are natural and realistic and the robots’ metallic gleam shimmers in fine detail.
Real Steel‘s DTS-HD MA 7.1 lossless mix is just as impressive as the high definition transfer! I really liked how the film felt real no matter what scene was on the screen. Whether it was at a local rodeo or in a gym, an underground robot fight club with raucous beats, or an over-sized arena filled with thousands of fans, this mix captured the atmosphere and replicated it so well that you might as well have been there. Directionality is also handled extremely well with all of the channels joining in on the action and following the action accurately. Hearing the metal grinding punishment of robot on robot fighting was awesome to listen to and my inner child rejoiced at the robotic destruction. Dialogue is crystal clear and understandable throughout the movie even during fight scenes or when there’s music playing. Fans of the movie will be very happy with this 7.1 mix!
These are pretty good special features but I don’t understand why the audio commentary with Director Shawn Levy isn’t included on the Blu-ray but shows up on the DVD instead. If you ask me that’s crazy.
- Real Steel Second Screen: Ringside with Director Shawn Levy - This features is supposed to help you “interact with the movie on your iPad or computer while you watch the movie on your Blu-ray player,” but I didn’t get a chance to try it as it wasn’t ready for me to check out.
- Countdown to the Fight: The Charlie Kenton Story – Some footage filmed in a mockumentary style with footage from the movie’s cast talking in character about themselves and the upcoming fight between Atom and Zeus.
- Making of Metal Valley – This is an almost fifteen minute look behind the scenes of the filming of the scrapyard scene where Charlie and Max eventually find Atom. I wish more of the movie was covered like this and filmed.
- Building the Bots – A look at the building of the robots both practically and through CGI. This was really interesting and I wish it had been longer because fighting robots are cool.
- Sugar Ray Leonard: Cornerman’s Champ - Boxing Hall of Fame star Sugar Ray Leonard served as the film’s adviser in both the fight sequences and he also helped train Hugh Jackman so he would look like a real fighter.
- Deleted & Extended Scenes – A look at some footage that was cut including: “Extended Meet Ambush” and “Deleted Butterfly Storyline”.
- DVD Copy (includes the commentary track that should be on the Blu-ray).
- Digital Copy
Maybe I’m a sucker for these kind of movies because of my own wonderful son and because I love comeback movies, but I really enjoyed Real Steel even if it was predictable. The animatronics by Legacy Effects are amazing, the special effects from ILM are up to their usual impeccable standard, and the cast is also excellent especially the multi-talented Hugh Jackman who makes every movie he’s in better than it should be.
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