Real Steel [Blu-Ray]
Director : Shawn Levy
Screenplay : John Gatins (story by Dan Gilroy and Jeremy Leven; based in part on the story “Steel” by Richard Matheson)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2011
Stars : Hugh Jackman (Charlie Kenton), Dakota Goyo (Max Kenton), Evangeline Lilly (Bailey Tallet), Anthony Mackie (Finn), Kevin Durand (Ricky), Hope Davis (Aunt Debra), James Rebhorn (Marvin), Marco Ruggeri (Cliff), Karl Yune (Tak Mashido), Olga Fonda (Farra Lemkova), John Gatins (Kingpin), Sophie Levy (Big Sister), Tess Levy (Little Sister), Charlie Levy (Littlest Sister), Gregory Sims (Bill Panner)
Like Atom, the giant, vaguely humanistic sparring robot that is dug out of the mud and becomes an unlikely champion in the near-futuristic world of robot boxing, Real Steel is a big, seemingly clunky contraption that works against all odds. Inspired by a 1956 short story by the prolific writer Richard Matheson that was previously adapted as a very different episode of The Twilight Zone starring Lee Marvin, Real Steel is constructed out of every conceivable underdog sports movie component imaginable, all of which are tweaked by the story’s science fiction concept, which sidelines direct human competition in the ring, but without losing the emotional and interpersonal impact.
The film’s efficiently formulaic nature shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given that the screenplay was penned by John Gatins, who has created his own cottage industry of sports movies over the past decade, having written rousing, audience-friendly, feel-good movies about baseball (Hard Ball and Summer Catch, both from 2001), basketball (2005’s Coach Carter), and horse racing (2005’s Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story). Thus, he knows the blueprint and employs it in Real Steel with a kind of laser precision, putting each piece neatly into place, carefully evoking previous underdog triumphs without appearing to rip them off. In a way, the movie is like Rocky IV minus the Cold War but with the addition of robots. Or maybe it is more like Paper Moon minus the Depression but with the addition of robots. No, wait--it is more like Over the Top minus the arm wrestling but with the addition of robots. (You get the picture ...)
The story takes place in the near distant future in which competitive boxing has been replaced by robot boxing matches that pit 10-foot mechanical behemoths against each other in what looks more like mixed martial-arts than traditional boxing (the deft mixture of CGI and practical animatronic effects are entirely convincing in making the concept both plausible and exciting). The robots are controlled video-game-style by a human manager, but much of their success depends on their engineering and toughness. This concept supplies grist for a few stabs at social relevance, such as the suggestion that robot boxing satiates the audience’s increasing bloodlust, but thematic depth is not exactly the film’s strong suit. It is much more comfortable in the terrain of the emotionally rousing, rather than the thought stirring, and the best thing you can say about its comfortable predictability is that at least it isn’t hacked to ribbons Michael Bay-style (I would say that the presence of Steven Spielberg as executive producer helped maintain some level of classicism, but I keep forgetting that his imprint is also on the atrocious Transformers movies). Director Shawn Levy, who has worked primarily in broad action comedies like Night at the Museum (2006) and Date Night (2010), falls right into line, hitting all the high notes, balancing humor and sentiment, providing plenty of crane shots to remind us of the enormity of the stakes, and, when in doubt, letting Danny Elfman’s soaring musical score fill in any and all gaps.
The protagonist is Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman), a former boxer-turned-two-bit-huckster who now subsists by working the lower rungs of the robot boxing circuit, always running short on cash and just ahead of his many creditors. Charlie is presented as a less-than-sympathetic case of bad luck, bad decision-making, and all around selfishness, but because he is played with grizzly, slightly weathered charm by Jackman, his potential for redemption is already built in. When Charlie learns that an ex-girlfriend has died, leaving him with the care of an 11-year-old son named Max (Dakota Goyo) who he hasn’t seen in, well, 11 years, the stage is set for that redemption. He takes the kid on the road for a bit of old-fashioned hate-to-love bonding in which both characters learn and grow while gaining increasing international fame with their new fighting bot, the aforementioned Atom, which Max digs out of the mud at a metal dump and insists be given the chance to compete. Atom, with his seemingly expressionless face and glowing blue eyes, is a curious figure because he is never directly anthropomorphized (that is, he never speaks or expresses himself in human terms), which makes him a perfect repository and mirror for all the emotions around him. He thus becomes both a mechanical father surrogate to Max by providing the kind of reliability and tenacity that Charlie could only dream of, as well as a metaphor for Charlie’s down-and-out status: Both are old, outdated, and discounted, and both are redeemed by Max’s fervent belief and willingness to defy the system.
As played by Goyo, who we last saw as the child version of Chris Hemsworth in last summer’s Thor, Max is a tough, ahead-of-his-years kid who knows that his dad is a bum, but wants to tag along with him anyway because he digs robot boxing (as any 11-year-old would). While Max comes with a blessed lack of cutesiness, the film sometimes pushes too far in the other direction, making him so supremely self-prepossessing, punchy, and at times downright audacious that he starts to feel more like a screenwriter’s device, rather than a flesh-and-blood character (the same could be said for Evangeline Lilly’s Bailey, a woefully underwritten love interest). It’s hardly enough to derail the movie’s steady momentum, though, and once we come to the big climax in which Atom faces down a seemingly invincible fighting bot designed by a reclusive Japanese genius/fashion model and Charlie gets to reclaim his lost glory as a scrappy boxer, it is hard to resist the surge of pleasure that accompanies any triumphant underdog, even if said underdog is full of wires and gears.
|Real Steel Blu-Ray + DVD|
|Subtitles||English, French, Spanish|
|Distributor||Touchstone Home Entertainment / DreamWorks SKG|
|Release Date||January 24, 2012|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|The 1080p/AVC-encoded image on Real Steel looks excellent throughout. Since the film was shot digitally, it is a direct digital port, giving us an image that is clear, well-detailed, and boasts striking contrast that plays well with the film’s sharply defined look. It doesn’t have a particularly filmlike appearance (there is certainly no presence of grain), but that is in keeping with the film’s intended presentation. There film’s palette isn’t particularly broad, as much of it takes place at night or inside various dark interiors, but when primary colors do appear (such as the opening sequence at the Texas carnival), they are rich and natural looking. Blacks are thick and inky without losing precious shadow detail. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1-channel surround soundtrack boasts an impressive mix that draws you deep into the robot battles. The clanking metal and crushing blows have depth and weight, and the surround channels are well utilized to create a fully immersive aural environment.|
|Director Shawn Levy is a very animated and enthusiastic filmmaker, which is reflected in his informative, engaging audio commentary. You can listen to the commentary alone or in conjunction with the “Second Screen” viewing mode, which allows you to sync the Blu-Ray disc to an app on your iPad or laptop and look at trivia, production design sketches, photos, and short production featurettes while watching the film and listening to the commentary. “Countdown to the Fight: The Charlie Kenton Story” is a 15-minute faux documentary about Hugh Jackman’s character in the film and the climactic bout between Atom and Zeus. “Making of Metal Valley” is a 14-minute behind-the-scenes featurette about the production design that went into the construction of Metal Valley (the enormous scrap yard where Atom is found) with special emphasis on the stuntwork and design that went into the shots in which Max slides down the muddy slope. There are two additional six-minute featurettes: “Building the Bots,” which covers the work done by Legacy Effects, the effects house founded by the late great Stan Winston, in building the nearly two-dozen animatronic robots in the film (the impetus to mix practical effects with CGI came from executive producer Steven Spielberg), and “Sugar Ray Leonard: Cornerman’s Champ,” which looks at the involvement of the former boxing champ in coaching Hugh Jackman. Also on the disc is a blooper reel and an extended scene and 12 minutes of deleted scenes that comprise an entire subplot that expands on Max’s character and background.|
Copyright ©2012 James Kendrick
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All images copyright © Touchstone Home Entertainment / DreamWorks SKG