Real Steel is an interesting blend of the underdog sports movie and science fiction, and from the first frame, you know exactly what will happen by the time the end credits roll. There’s nothing wrong with that since we knew exactly what was coming in Rocky or Remember the Titans and both were strong, entertaining films. The challenge for the director and cast is to make arriving at the inevitable conclusion as entertaining as possible and in this case, the film exceeded expectations.
Coming out tomorrow for home video from Touchstone Home Entertainment, the Shawn Levy-directed film looks terrific and has rock solid sound so you hear the gears grinding and Danny Elfman’s score soar with fidelity.
The story is set in 2027, a time when human boxers have been replaced by oversized robotic creations that are basically Rock’Em Sock’Em Robots controlled by a video game interface. Atop the heap is the most advanced bit of Artificial Intelligence in the hulking Zeus, built and controlled by the film’s sort of bad guys, the too cool to be true Tak Mashido (Karl Yune) and Farra Lemcova (Olga Fonda). Way down the food chain is former boxer and failed robot boxing controller Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman). He owes money, his life sucks, and he’s so focused on finding the next fight to earn some cash that he is merely existing, not living. That changes when his old flame Caroline dies and he’s summoned to court to sign away all parental rights to his son Max (Dakota Goyo), a smart and smart-mouthed 11 year old. In need of a cash infusion, Charlie agrees to take Max for the summer so his Aunt and her husband can take an unencumbered Italian vacation in exchange for $100,000.
The rest of the film details the budding relationship between the two as they bicker, argue, and learn to love. Along the way, Charlie loses another robot while Max finds a sparring robot named Atom and basically adopts him. The scrappy mechanism is merely a distraction at first until he starts winning and with it comes confidence and prosperity.
The winning performances by Jackman and Goyo cement the film and keep it watchable but Levy does not do much with the rest of the characters. All the people Charlie encounters are two-dimensional at best keeping the film flat at times. Then there’s Bailey Tallet (Evangeline Lilly), daughter of the man who fostered and trained Charlie, who has always had feelings for him. Her entire relationship with Charlie remains off to the side, conveniently touched on as needed but never made to feel fully integrated into the over story.
Levy also does a haphazard job with his world-building. Clearly, technology has allowed the robots to exist and prosper but fashion, automobiles, and most technology hasn’t budged from today (although Bailey had a cool looking radio in one scene) and it’s a shame since it needed to feel a little more futuristic. At least Max refers to comic books so we know they survive.
He and screenwriters John Gatins and Sheldon Turner (from a screen story by Dan Gilroy and Jeremy Leven, based on the stronger “Steel” by Richard Matheson) do pace things well enough that you’re caught up in the climactic battle between Zeus and Atom and are cheering even though you know exactly what’s going to happen.
The film is accompanied on the Blu-ray disc with Second Screen: Ringside with director Shawn Levy, who is engaging and fun to hear recount how the film came together. He also introduces the 17 minutes of deleted/extended scenes, explaining why changes were made. Most make sense but it’s nice to have them here.
There’s Countdown to the Fight: The Charlie Kenton Story, a 14 minute pseudo-ESPN piece that fills in many of the questions the film itself left hanging about how Charlie got to the point where we first met him. It’s a nicely done piece and almost mandatory watching. Also worth your attention is Sugar Ray Leonard: Cornerman’s Champ, a 6 minute piece showing the boxing champ working with Jackman so he looked like an authentic palooka.
Making of Metal Valley is a lengthy look at how this set was constructed and how they shot Max’s mudslide and while interesting, is more for filmmakers. Building the Bots is another nice piece on how real fighting bots were constructed to elicit better performances from the humans interacting with them. It also shows how they transition from real to CGI and it’s interesting to note how seamless it all appears.
And yes, there are bloopers which were pretty standard.
All in all, if you like underdogs, robots, science fiction, sports or Jackman, then this is most definitely worth a look.
For a limited time, Dreamworks is offering $5 OFF the purchase of the Real Steel 3-disc Combo Pack. Those interested should visit http://www.steelgetsreal.com/, and click on the offer in the upper right corner of the page. Offer ends 1/29/12.