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Friday, November 18, 2011

Movie Review: Real Steel

Real Steel    $$$ ½

127 Minutes
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lilly, Kevin Durand

Director: Shawn Levy

            Set in the near-future, this film struck me as a cross between the movie “Rocky” and the Rockem Sockem Robots game I had when I was a child. In the film, they have replaced human opponents with robots. Audiences can enjoy even more destruction and mayhem without any concern over anybody getting hurt.

            Not a bad idea.

            Hugh Jackman plays a boxer, forced to be manager, named Charlie. Back when humans were still allowed to box, Charlie was a contender. In all of his matches he either won, or lost, by knockout. Charlie gave it his all.

            Unfortunately, while that worked for him as a boxer it has put him in a bind as a manager. Charlie’s boxing career has declined and he finds himself taking his robot boxer to county fairs and other similar low-budget venues. His go for broke view on life puts him in a bind when he pits his last robot against a bull and loses. Unable to pay off his bet with the fair promoter (Kevin Durand) he has to skip out and hope to stay ahead of his creditors while he tries to turn his luck around.

            The situation turns around, but not the way he expects it.  Charlie is given full custody of his son when Max’s (Dakota Goyo) mother dies. Father and son have long been separated – a situation that Charlie hopes to continue. An opportunity presents itself for Charlie to sign custody over to Max’s aunt and uncle at the end of the summer. Until then, the two of them are stuck with one another.

            I loved this movie. It shouldn’t have been a surprise when you consider how much I enjoy boxing and robots. But the thing about this movie is it really isn’t about boxing and robots. It’s about a father and a son getting to know each other, and about second chances to redeem yourself, and about realizing that all of us have something of value to offer our children. This was a touching story that felt genuine to me.

            No doubt about it, my children are going to be attracted to the scenes of robots battering one another to their component parts. I’m okay with that because along the way they’ll absorb the noble message it contains without realizing it.

            Real Steel earned a 3 ½ score from me, although I wonder if I shouldn’t give it a higher rating. The writing is good, the acting is great, and the overall message is excellent. I would like to point out that while the story takes place in the future the scene take place in locations that look as if they happened thirty years ago. Whoever is responsible for this, writer or director, knew what they were doing. This kept the story from being about the fights, or the special effects, or about robots. The settings gave the film a more down to earth feel which really helped the story they were trying to tell.

            Robot smashing mayhem is best seen on a large theater screen. So I do recommend seeing this in a first run theater. That being said, catching it as a matinee didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the movie. The fact that I plan to add this movie to my collection bumped it up a half a rating, and considering how fondly I think back about the experience maybe I should give it a full $$$$.

            Randy’s Rating System

$$$$   = Full Price    See this movie right away and pay full price, it’s worth it.
$$$     = Matinee      Catch this as a matinee or other discounted showing.
$$        = Discount     Wait until this movie reaches a discount theater near you.
$          = Rental         Wait until this movie reaches your local video rental outlet.
0          = No Sale       Don’t see this movie at any price.


  1. This was actually based on a Richard Matheson story that was used in the Twilight Zone episode Steel where Lee Marvin plays the boxing manager. In the episode his robot breaks down so he substitutes himself as the robot and gets his ass kicked. That was later used in a Simpsons episode where Homer impersonates a robot to win Bart's love.

    Incidentally this movie was filmed largely here in Detroit, which is why the scenery looks so grungy and crappy.

  2. Thank you for an insightful and honest look at this film! I've been wanting to see it (BIG Hugh Jackman fan!) and I was wondering whether to take my children; after reading this - I believe I will do both.

  3. I have heard good things about this movie. I am dying to see. Afterall, it has Hugh in it, and he is my imaginary boyfriend. Shhh--- don't tell!

  4. I like the idea that it's an action movie that actually has a deeper story. Not that I don't love all-action films, who doesn't? But a story is good too :-)

  5. I haven't seen this yet, but I figured the people who made it had it right - boxing robots for the kids, father-son relationship for the dads, and Hugh Jackman for the moms :) - something for everyone :)