“Real Steel” Review

Real Steel

– for not containing material to warrant a higher rating.
Director: Shawn Levy
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, Dakota Goyo
Running Time: 2 hours, 7 minutes
Theatrical Release Date: October 7, 2011


Plot Summary
A gritty, white-knuckle, action ride set in the near-future, where the sport of boxing has gone hi-tech, Real Steel stars Hugh Jackman as Charlie Kenton, a washed-up fighter who lost his chance at a title when 2000-pound, 8-foot-tall steel robots took over the ring. Now nothing but a small-time promoter, Charlie earns just enough money piecing together low-end bots from scrap metal to get from one underground boxing venue to the next. When Charlie hits rock bottom, he reluctantly teams up with his estranged son Max (Dakota Goyo) to build and train a championship contender. As the stakes in the brutal, no-holds-barred arena are raised, Charlie and Max, against all odds, get one last shot at a comeback.
(from MovieWeb.com)

Film Review
It amazes me how a movie trailer can really affect your impression of a film. When I first saw ads for Real Steel, my initial thoughts were not positive and, if anything, leaned toward feeling like it looked pretty ridiculous. However, I enjoy most movies Hugh Jackman stars in (although he could not – and no one could – save the poorly made Australia), and I didn’t want to erroneously write off the movie before hearing more about it or seeing it for myself. When the initial buzz for the film was more positive than not, I decided it may be worth checking out. And I’m here to report to you that I’m glad I did.


Surprisingly enough, Date Night and Night at the Museum director Shawn Levy helms this story, a film about a former boxer who is down-on-his-luck and travels the country enrolling his own robotic boxer into matches for money. Charlie Kenton, played by Jackman, tends to put more on the line than he can afford to, which inevitably gets him into some serious trouble. Things change, however, when an ex-girlfriend passes away, leaving his eleven-year-old son Max in his care. Kenton literally makes a cash deal with his son’s uncle to keep him over the summer until they return from a vacation (and can then take him into custody), and uses that money to invest in a new bot. What unfolds from here is not only a Rocky/Karate Kid kind of underdog story, but a touching father/son story as well.

Charlie Kenton isn’t exactly the kind of guy you root for. He’s selfish, arrogant, impulsive, and bitter. But you soon realize, once Max comes into the picture, that this man has a shred of decency that he somehow managed to lose along the way. As the story progresses, Charlie does start to warm up to Max and the two end up making a great team in the world of robotic boxing. Unfortunately, this also creates one of the movie’s biggest problems: it’s predictable. If you’ve seen any movie with a similar plot line, or any underdog sports film, you can pretty much assume the course the film will take. You may wonder exactly what outcome will be chosen for the result of, say, the climactic battle, but ultimately, you can pick up the plot pieces that set little things into motion and realize early on that it will come into play prominently during the climax. While this predictability will certainly ruin the fun for some, I felt the acting and journey Levy takes us on is worth the familiarity along the way. While you can figure things out with little effort, you still don’t know how they’re going to get there and what may happen before we arrive at that point, and that is part of the fun of Real Steel. Also, as a young dad myself, I did enjoy the father/son subplot of the film. Jackman did a fantastic job at delivering a well-rounded and believable performance as Kenton, and newcomer Dakota Goyo is quite good as his son Max. Sometimes children in these films can be more irritating and obnoxious than endearing (and one scene where Max grabs the microphone while in the ring does threaten to be just that), but Levy made a wise casting choice with Goyo, who really did a great job.

The content for Real Steel was considerably more tame than I expected. Not taking Levy’s previously crass Date Night into consideration, there were many times I expected Kenton to spout profanities or things to possibly go in a more vulgar direction, but Levy plays the film more family friendly than not. There is some language included, still, with 2 uses of the “S” word and a handful of other more mild cuss words, but I was disappointed to hear them let Max use the “S” word once as well as a few other cuss words. It wasn’t frequent at all, but it didn’t sound good coming from him either, and it made the movie sound a little less family oriented. In addition to that, there is one pretty violent scene where some guys Charlie owes money to corner him and Max and beat up Charlie. He does put up a fight, but they level him pretty good. Max gets a little roughed up, but isn’t beaten at all. It’s used to move the story along, and it’s filmed in a dimly lit area as not to seem quite as brutal, but it’s a dark moment in an otherwise pretty tame film. If they’d either omitted that or toned it down further, as well as toned down the language just a little bit more, there wouldn’t really be any reason why this couldn’t have been rated PG for wider audiences.

Overall, I was surprised by how much I actually enjoyed Real Steel. From the title to the concept right down to the way the trailers were cut, I didn’t really want to like the movie and was pretty certain I wouldn’t. But with Jackman’s performance, along with some solid fight scenes and Levy’s confident directing, I found Real Steel to be quite entertaining. Fans of sci-fi/action films like Transformers and sports films like Rocky or Karate Kid would probably best enjoy this one. It’s hardly a perfect film (and you really have to excuse its somewhat corny ending), but it’s definitely an enjoyable one and a fun fall 2011 treat.
John DiBiase (reviewed: 10/10/11)

Parental Guide: Content Summary
. Sex/Nudity: Bailey shows some cleavage in the shirts she wears and often wears short shorts; A woman at the “zoo” is wearing a bikini top showing a great deal of cleavage.
. Vulgarity/Language: Roughly 2 “s”, 7 “G-d,” 1 “S.O.B.,” 6 “h*ll,” 6 “cr*p,” 2 “b*tch,” 7 “a” word, 6 “d*mn,” 2 “p*ss,” 1 “sucks”
. Alcohol/Drugs: We see beer bottles all over Charlie’s truck floor and he takes a swig of some after waking up; We see people drinking in a bar; People have drinks at a party; Bailey has a beer, as does the guy next to her, as she watches a fighting match on a TV in a bar.
. Blood/Gore: When the robots get destroyed, we often see purple liquid that is kind of like their equivalent of blood spill out (but it’s not gross or gory); Charlie has a cut over his eye (and his eye is later black and blue) and blood on his mouth after getting beaten up; A man has a little bit of blood on his lip after Charlie punches him.
. Violence: We see a robot flip a live bull over onto the ground and then later punch it in the head. Then the bull rams the robot, tearing off its leg and then impales it against a wall with its horns and rips off its head; Charlie punches a man who he thinks is coming to collect money but is really there to tell him about Max; Max falls down a slope and nearly falls to his death; Max punches Charlie on the arms repeatedly for leaving him; We see two robots fight, with one of them getting an arm ripped off before being decapitated; Another robot fight causes a robot to short-circuit and catch on fire; We see several boxing matches between robots with varied results; A man Charlie owes money to comes to him and Max in a dark alley and starts beating on them. Charlie puts up a fight, but ends up on the ground where he is kicked a few times. Max is tossed around but not really beaten up (he head-butts a guy who is holding him); We see the climactic boxing match where two robots get pretty brutally beaten between the two of them. One of the robot owners punches a glass console out of anger, shattering it; A man is carried off by two guys that he owes money to and had previously insulted.

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