Directed by Shawn Levy, Real Steel is set in the not so distant future and stars Hugh Jackman as a former boxer who is now attempting to get by in the robot-boxing circuit. The cost of investing in robots and the not-entirely predictable world of sports gambling has put Charlie Kenton in a sticky spot, but when money comes his way, as well as his estranged child Max (Dakota Goyo) and the lucky discovery of an outdated, discarded robot, an opportunity for victory and redemption presents itself. Charlie’s boxing experience proves to be especially useful, and in a way, allows him to get back in the ring again through the robot.
One of the things that works best withReal Steel is the pacing. Set to a soundtrack of rock and hip-hop, as well as Danny Elfman’s score, the film doesn’t waste any time telling its story. It takes us through the bonding of Max and Charlie as father and son, their fast ascent in the sport of robot boxing thanks to their “new” robot Atom, and Charlie’s friendship (possibly more) with Evangeline Lilly’s character, Bailey Tallet. In the end, we’re given just the right amount of character set-up to allow us to care about them enough to want to watch them win.
When watching Real Steel, it’s easy to draw comparisons to other films. The story of a father attempting to bond with his son while also pursuing a goal in a competitive sport is reminiscent of Sylvester Stallone’s Over the Top, especially when factoring in the child’s aunt’s interest in obtaining custody of Max. Meanwhile, the robot/kid bonding draws a parallel to Terminator 2. And then there’s the underdog story of a smaller robot going up against a well-funded machine, which feels a bit like Rocky IV. There’s also a slight Fast and the Furious edge to the shiny way the sport of robot boxing is portrayed, in mashing machinery with competitive sports, minus the illegal element.
While Real Steel doesn’t come off as all that original, neither does it feel like a direct rip-off of any one thing. In fact, it seems to tap into the heart of the films we might compare it to and draw some of the best from all of them, merging them into an exciting and heart-warming story about a boy, his dad, and a robot. And then there’s robots beating the metal out of other robots. You can’t really go wrong there.
The futuristic setting doesn’t feel that far off from our reality, which works nicely, as does the borderline overuse of product placement throughout the film, with HP’s logo popping up here and there, as well as other well-known brands such as Bing and Sprint. It feels like we’re being advertised at, which is probably about the direction the world is headed in, so there’s no break from reality there. Another strength of the film is how quickly it moves along. We aren’t forced through barely relevant side-stories in an attempt to flesh out the plot. What we get is a story of a friendship formed between the two lead characters, a tale of redemption as a former boxer finds a way to use his fighting experience toward a new sport, and some really great robot-fighting scenes. The attention to detail when it comes to the setting as well as the robots is also well worth noting.
Real Steel finds the formula to create an exciting and highly entertaining story, and it executes it well, delivering an ending that is only a little bit predictable but works to cap off a satisfying movie experience, with just enough story and robot-fights to leave us smiling.
My first experience with a DVD commentary came when I purchased Ghostbusters, back when I bought my first DVD player over a decade ago (a Sony, which still works). I remember being blown away by the concept of getting to listen to the filmmakers talk about the movie while they watched it. It was brilliant. While I’ve enjoyed listening to many a commentary since then, never have I felt as blown away by a bonus feature as I was in that first experience... until I used the Real Steel Second Screen feature included on the Blu-ray disc. This option takes the commentary to the next level, giving us a virtual tour of the movie, guided by director Shawn Levy, while we watch it.
The “Second Screen” feature is actually an app that requires the use of a laptop or a compatible tablet. I used my iPad to try it out, and after a lengthy download process (that may be improved by the time the Blu-ray officially released), I installed the app and was actually prepared to be a mixture of bored and irritated by it. In general, I’m not a fan of having to download or sign up for stuff when it comes to DVD/Blu-rays. I don’t like to clutter up my devices with single-use movie features. So, I should admit that I went into this Second Screen thing feeling a bit apprehensive and wondering what the app could offer that a picture-in-picture commentary couldn’t. As it turns out, quite a lot.
The Second Screen app syncs with the movie, either by BD-play or using the microphone on your device. Using my Playstation 3 as the Blu-ray player, I was able to sync using the BD Play option. From there, the movie plays, with the commentary audio coming through the television, while the app scrolls through a timeline of photos, videos, and other interactive features on the iPad (or whatever compatible device you're using). For example, since many of the robot scenes involve the use of motion capture, during those moments in the film, the app shows videos and photos of how the scene looked before the actor was digitally replaced with a robot.
While the Second Screen feature offers a ton of additional content, the Blu-ray itself sports a number of features, including deleted and extended scenes, and a featurette that shows Sugar Ray Leonard as he works with Hugh Jackman in preparation for his role as a boxer. The “Countdown to the Fight: The Charlie Kenton Story” featurette is a faux-special featuring character interviews and a recap of Charlie’s story leading up to the much-hyped fight between Atom and mega-robot Zeus.
While those features are exclusive to the Blu-ray, both the DVD and Blu-ray discs include bloopers, a feature that shows how the actual robots were built (and points out some of the scenes in the movie where we’re looking at “real” robots, as opposed to the CGI ones used in the fighting and practicing scenes), and another one that breaks down the making of the “Metal Valley” scene (the junkyard scene where they find Atom). Given how much went into that scene in terms of building the set and working out the stunt coordination, the featurette is well worth watching. The DVD also includes a commentary.