At first glance Real Steel might appear to be a futuristic sci-fi movie. The giant boxing robots give that impression, but first impressions aren’t always correct. In fact, aside from the robots everything about the movie takes place in current (or at least the very near future) times. Real Steel is really sort of a hybrid of Over the Top and Rocky, mixed with a dose of high tech effects, resulting in a family movie. Instead of a human being, we have a boxing robot named Atom.
Much like Rocky in the 1976 film, Atom is not well-suited for professional fights. He was actually designed to be a sparring partner to the bigger, badder professional fighting robots. However, Atom is found abandoned in a robot scrap heap by a lonely pre-teen boy named Max (Dakota Goyo). Max sees potential in Atom and convinces his robot boxing manager dad (Hugh Jackman) to let Atom fight. At its core Real Steel is about loyalty and commitment. While it doesn’t quite deliver the emotional impact it aims for, Real Steel still manages to be an enjoyable movie.
Charlie Kenton (Jackman) is a former professional boxer and is now struggling robot boxing promoter. He’s looking to make a quick buck with his boxing robot in the amateur fighting circuit. When his champion robot is destroyed in a bull fight, he needs forty-five grand to get a new one. He turns to his boxing gym owner girlfriend Bailey (Evangeline Lily) for help, but she doesn’t have the cash. That’s when Kenton’s long lost son Max comes along.
Kenton didn’t know he had a son, who is now eleven, but the court system has tracked him down after the death of the boy’s mother. The court wants him to either take responsibility for the boy or terminate his parental rights. Max’s aunt wants to take custody, so Kenton is all too eager sign the boy away until he finds out the aunt’s husband has money. The husband is none too eager to take the kid on the fancy vacation he had already planned. Instead he works out a deal with Kenton to take Max for the summer in exchange for the money he needs for the robot.
Kenton initially has no real interest in Max and intends to dump him with Bailey while he makes money boxing his new robot. Max, on the other hand, doesn’t want to be left behind and convinces Kenton to let him tag along. Max has an interest in robot fighting, and wants to get in on the action. He gets his chance when he finds Atom and begins to train him to fight. Kenton and Max begin to forge a relationship as Atom becomes more and more successful at robot boxing. Real Steel is kind of a strange movie. The whole idea of robot boxing is just kind of weird. Why a robot would be fighting a live bull is never explained; the concept borders on animal cruelty. We just have to take it at face value that robot boxing is a popular sport, with people wanting to see robots fight just about anything.
The problem is it’s hard to root for a robot. The robots are remote-controlled and possess very little artificial intelligence. They therefore have no personality, no goals, or no emotions of any kind. The movie tries to imply that there is a little more going on in Atom’s circuitry, but they never really go anywhere with it. Instead we are supposed to be rooting for Kenton and Max, the father-son team beating the odds. The bonding story is fairly typical. Kenton is an affirmed loaner with no interest in family, who is forced to become an instant father. Max is a headstrong kid who just wants to be accepted. It’s easy to see where that storyline is going.
What I did not experience was a strong emotional connection to the characters or the story. It’s all fine, but it didn’t stick with me. I would say that while Real Steel is easy to watch and certainly isn’t a bad movie, it’s just too predictable. Considering we are watching a movie about robot boxers there were zero surprises in the entire movie. Overall I would say Real Steel is a decent family film that offers few revelations. However, it is just heartwarming and exciting enough to be entertaining.
Real Steel looks very impressive in 1080p high definition on Blu-ray. The highlights are the scenes involving the boxing robots, which are all digital creations. Sometimes movies with so much digital effects footage are hurt when presented in high definition because they look too sharp, coming across more like video game graphics. This is not so with Real Steel, as the battling robots still look realistic in addition to being very sharp and detailed. Black levels are deep without losing details in the shadows or dimly lit scenes. Colors are realistic throughout.
The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack also excels when it comes to the fight scenes. Crowd noise and music blends perfectly with a barrage of grinding metal sound effects. The subwoofer definitely pumps out a significant amount of bass to emphasize the hardest hits. The surround speakers are highly active, really enveloping the viewer in an audio whirlwind. But as important as these action-heavy scenes are to Real Steel, the quieter moments are well mixed too. Dialogue is always easy to understand and subtle effects are audible throughout the movie.
Special features are far from extensive but there are a few things worth taking a look at. The best features are the Deleted and Extended Scenes, which includes a subplot that was entirely removed from the movie (“Deleted Butterfly Storyline”) that expands on Max’s background. “Countdown the Fight – The Charlie Kenton Story” is a fifteen minute featurette that is a little more interesting than the standard promo piece in that it’s a mockumentary featuring the actors playing their characters from the movie as they expand on the story. The “Making of Metal Valley” featurette focuses on the special effects for the junkyard battle scene. Sugar Ray Leonard served as Jackman’s boxing coach and he shows up for “Cornerman’s Champ,” a short piece that offers insights into the training the actor went through to be a convincing boxer.