After that, though...? I could practically picture Jack Lipnick spelling out the premise. "Charlie Kenton's a washed-up boxer. Give me his hopes...his dreams. Naturally he gets mixed up with a bad element and a romantic interest or else an orphan. Oh, and robots." Real Steel is pretty much exactly like one of those hyperformulaic, completely interchangeable feel-good boxing flicks from the '40s. Yeah, you've got Charlie (Hugh Jackman), the boxer whose best days are years and years behind him in the rearview mirror. You've got Max (Dakota Goyo), the plucky quasi-orphan he's supposed to protect and who teaches Charlie about life and love and responsibility and stuff. You've got Bailey (Evangeline Lilly), the dame waiting for him back home who gives all these solemn speeches about how she loves this knucklehead but can't keep being there for him. She's got no more left, Charlie! You've even got a dead surrogate-father-mentor-type for good measure! A hopeless underdog gets back on his feet, rises through the ranks, gets a shot at the title, and shows all those arrogant,
See, with the rise of MMA and fighting getting all bareknuckled and bloody, the sweet science of boxing wasn't really drawing crowds anymore. Audiences were screaming out for no holds barred brawls. People can't really rip off each other's heads or dismember each other in the ring, but robots totally can. Flesh-and-blood boxers like Charlie Kenton became buggy whips with puffy red gloves. Charlie's tried to scrape by in this brave new world by taking control of his own rusty robot fighter, but he can't resist pushing his luck. The guy's something like a hundred grand in debt to kneecap-smashing gambler-types. His last robo-boxer was already on its last legs, but now...well, it doesn't have any legs, period. Charlie's always the type to land on his feet somehow, and when he's reconnected with the kid he barely knew he had, he's able to sell Max for just enough scratch to buy a shiny new fighter. It's just that Charlie's stuck with that streetwise little hustler for the summer, and it turns out that the tyke knows his way around the robot boxing game. When Charlie loses his pricey 'bot in his very first fight, Max rustles up a fighter of his very own. Okay, Atom is a creaky, ancient sparring bot fished out of a
I'll say this for Real Steel: it looks pretty incredible. I mean, there are a couple dozen robots scattered around in here, each with their own very distinct and very unique looks. The movie doesn't skimp on the robo-boxing, the visual effects are world-class, and Real Steel benefits immensely by mixing physical, animatronic robots in with the CGI. There's a sense of...I don't know, immediacy and heightened reality that come with that sort of approach. I'm totally the type to geek out about the concept of robots slugging it out, and the fight choreography is pretty spectacular too. Unlike the Transformers flicks where the camerawork and editing are so spastic that the brawls are visually incomprehensible, Real Steel is clean and coherent. In terms of production values and post-production craftsmanship, I really don't have anything to complain
The problem is kind of...everything else. Straight off the bat, I should say that Real Steel is exactly the movie it sets out to be. Director Shawn Levy wanted to make a big-hearted underdog sports flick in the most classic sense, so when I say that Real Steel plays exactly like a '40s boxing movie, that's not an insult so much as a "well, yeah, of course it does". If I were a wide-eyed eight-year-old, I'd be lugging around a Real Steel lunchbox and have Real Steel robo-boxer toys all over my floor and probably be playing the Real Steel video game right about now. It's just that...well, I'm not eight anymore. My problem with Real Steel isn't that it latches onto every hoary underdog sports cliché in The Big Book of Hoary Underdog Sports Clichés. A formula is just a framework anyway, and there are lots of really compelling things you can do inside that sandbox. It's just that Real Steel's visual and technical ambition isn't matched anywhere else in the screenplay. There's not a single surprise lurking anywhere in Real Steel's two hour and change runtime. Its characters are thinly sketched, not needing more than a word or two to fully sum up. The bad guys are reduced to a series of over-the-top accents. Max is a plucky, determined more-or-less-an-orphan who just needs a little love. Bailey is a pretty girl who sticks it out even when she knows she shouldn't. Charlie -- well, and the robot boxer Atom too -- is the rusty, has-been fighter no one believed in but who shows everyone what he's made of. I mean, that's it. There's no dimension to them beyond that, and in the place of characterization is way too much unearned, cornball sentimentality. All of the relationships between these characters feel like heavy-handed cinematic constructions...I mean, I could never lose myself in the deliberate, calculated emotions that Real Steel lobs out here. I kind of actively disliked Max, one of those smarmy, overbearing, smarter-than-every-adult-in-the-room tween types. It's just hard to get invested in characters that feel this artificial, and as brilliant as the visuals so frequently are, they aren't enough of a distraction from how uninspired everything else about Real Steel is. Rent It.
C'mon, Real Steel is a nine-figure visual effects spectacle; of course it looks phenomenal on Blu-ray. The digital photography is dazzlingly detailed and bolstered by deep, inky blacks. There's a real sense of depth and dimensionality here...about as great as it gets without having to slap on a pair of 3D glasses. I just love the look of the movie, propelled by Avatar's Oscar-winning cinematographer Mauro Fiore. I'm really taken in by all the clever interplay between light and shadow, and Real Steel thankfully shrugs off the stale teal/orange tint that's heaped on so many other blockbusters anymore. A truly spectacular effort.
Real Steel gobbles up just about every spare byte on this dual-layer Blu-ray disc. The AVC encode is split into a slew of different pieces, I guess because certain stretches of the film have been localized to better play in other countries. Real Steel's theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1 has been preserved on Blu-ray.
Real Steel is rockin' a 24-bit, 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. I don't have those two extra channels in the back, so I can't really comment
Also included are a stereo descriptive video service track, a Dolby Digital 5.1 dub in Spanish, and a Quebeçois-friendly DTS-HD HR 7.1 French track. Subtitles are served up in English (SDH), French, and Spanish.
Although I'll freely admit to not thinking much of Real Steel as a movie, I really enjoyed every last one of these extras. Exclusive to this Blu-ray release are...
The version of Real Steel reviewed here is a two disc set: one anamorphic widescreen DVD and one shiny, new Blu-ray disc. A pricier three disc set tacks on a digital copy and...nothing else? For $5 more? Hmmm.
The Final Word
The short answer is that Real Steel is a lazy, clumsily sentimental, cliché-riddled screenplay brought to life with some dazzling technical craftsmanship. I'm sure the junior set will get swept away by the spectacle of it all, but to me, Real Steel is just a glossier take on a story I've seen a couple hundred thousand times already. Rent It.