Real Steel (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo) (2011)

Actors: Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, Dakota Goyo
Director: Shawn Levy
Format: Color, DVD, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
Language: English
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





Real 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 robot boxer.

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 engaging ride.

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 other.

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 proceedings.

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, however.

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



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