Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, Dakota Goyo
Director: Shawn Levy
Format: Color, DVD, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Region: 1 (U.S. and Canada only)
Number of discs: 2
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Walt Disney Studios
DVD Release Date: January 24, 2012
Run Time: 127 minutes
Steel almost dares us to hate it, then makes us like it in spite of
ourselves . . .
Its premise was taken from an old Richard Matheson story, which became a
truly sterling episode of The Twilight Zone.
Naturally, the film removes the basic idea that made it work, adds a whole
bunch of superfluous special effects and puts everything on the shoulders of
star Hugh Jackman in hopes that he can pull out a winner. Against all odds,
he does . . . with more than a little help from his young costar Dakota Goyo.
The pair play an estranged father-son duo forced to spend a summer together
after years without contact. Lest you wonder what such a scenario is doing
in a sci-fi movie, it should also be mentioned that the father works as a
Human boxing has fallen by the wayside and fights now consist of giant
remote-controlled behemoths pounding the crap out of each other. Jackman’s
Charlie Kenton used to box himself, but now occupies the used-cigarette end
of the industry: controlling fourth-rate pugilists by remote control and
watching them get methodically taken apart in the ring. He agrees to babysit
the boy for the summer in exchange for some quick cash, which then he blows
in a futile effort to get back on his feet.
Hope arrives in the form of a sparring robot named Atom: left in a junkyard
and uncovered during a semi-illegal scrounging session.
What at first looks like a pipe dream quickly turns into an unlikely
underdog story, as father and son grow closer while their plucky little bot
rises resolutely up the ranks. In the process,
Real Steel manages to
cover sports clichés, sci-fi clichés and dysfunctional family clichés in one
fell swoop. Nothing about the scenario displays any originality, and if you
can’t figure out where it’s going in the first ten minutes, you’ve either
never seen a movie of any kind before or you need to check your skull for
embedded hatchet blades that may be inhibiting your thoughts.
However, if you can accept all that – and understand that you won’t see any
real hints of creativity here – then it actually proves to be a quietly
Director Shawn Levy makes do with the little details, elevating the big
picture inch by inch. It starts with the relationship at the center of it;
the dialogue between Jackman and Goyo has some real snap, as does their
exchanges with Evangeline Lilly (the surrogate mother in the scenario). The
two actors also find the emotional truths of their characters, compelling us
to pay attention and care about them as they work to connect with each
To that, Levy adds some very engaging robot battles, aided by technological
advancements that allow for fluid camera movements in and out of the bouts.
He builds each challenge reasonably well too, creating just enough suspense
and anticipation to make the payoff worthwhile. Some strong supporting
performances from the likes of Kevin Durand and Anthony Mackie smooth over
the worst of the flaws, helping us to get into the spirit of the
Does that make it worth owning on Blu-ray? I’m not sure. The visual displays
and decent characters work well enough for isolated viewings, but this
doesn’t seem to be something that can hold up to a lot of repeats. Of
course, the target demographic of young boys may strongly disagree . . . and
their parents will find enough interesting material to occupy themselves in
the interim. Real Steel isn’t great, but it’s decent in a middling
sort of way, and it won’t make you regret the experience of sitting through
it. Like its protagonists, it just keeps finding a way to get the job done.
THE DISC: The Blu-ray transfer is solid and you won’t have any
complaints about the sound or image quality. The extras are well-done too:
background on Jackman’s character, a documentary on fight adviser Sugar Ray
Leonard, some standard-issue behind-the-scenes stuff, audio commentary and
interactive features with Levy, bloopers, outtakes and a DVD copy.
WORTH IT? If you’re a fan of the film, the Blu-ray won’t let you
down. Newcomers should give it a rental before picking up a copy to own,
RECOMMENDATION: Real Steel is Hollywood entertainment in every way:
creatively timid, technical polished, fun while it’s on and utterly
forgettable once you put it away.
- Rob Vaux