Based in part on the 1956 short story “Steel” by Richard Matheson, Real Steel might be best described as souped up Transformers. Set in 2020, fans have decided that regular boxing is simply to tame. In an effort to satisfy audiences’ violent appetites, robot boxing was created; once promising boxer Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is now a promoter struggling to keep a robot in one piece.
Saddled with debts owed to several powerful loan sharks, Charlie doesn’t have a robot to fight with. Every time he manages to get a new one, Charlie’s ego gets in the way, causing him to ruin any chance he had of making it big. Things only get worse when his ex-girlfriend dies, leaving behind their 11-year-old son, Max (Dakota Goyo). Charlie manages to work out a lucrative custody deal with Max’s rich uncle, but it means having to take the kid for the summer.
Max is less than thrilled about going to live with his dad, a man he hardly knows. Charlie begrudgingly takes his son on the road. After Charlie’s latest robot is destroyed, the pair goes to a junkyard in search of spare parts, only to uncover an older generation sparring bot named Atom buried in the wreckage. While Charlie believes Atom is useless, Max convinces him otherwise. Like a futuristic Rocky, Atom ends up excelling in the ring, leading to a title shot against the seemingly invincible World Robot Boxing champion, Zeus.
Like a lot of sports dramas, Real Steel is somewhat predictable. For instance, when it’s revealed that Atom has a rare shadow function that allows the robot to imitate its controller’s movements, you know that Charlie is destined to step back into the ring, metaphorically speaking, before the end of the film. Director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum, Date Night), more widely known for comedies, does a great job with the robot fighting scenes; they’re far more exciting than the last two Transformer films. Beyond that, Levy does a fine crafting a classic underdog story with equal parts action and drama. While the robots are very important, at the heart of it, Real Steel is about the relationship between Charlie and Max.
It’s the father/son relationship that makes this film stand out. Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo have great chemistry, circa Jon Voight and Ricky Schroder in 1979’s The Champ. Jackman is his usual affable, charming self and Dakota Goya is cute as a button. That being said, none of the other actors stand out. In the end, Real Steel is a nice little sports movie; nothing less, nothing more.
Presented in 2.35:1, this 1080p transfer is top notch. Colors are vivid, nearly popping off the screen. Black levels are deep and inky. Details are wonderfully sharp, without a blur in sight. There are no compression artifacts to mention.
The DTS-HD 7.1 Master audio track is just as wonderful. Dialogue is crystal clear throughout, and the track itself is utterly immersive. Action sequences have great punch, and throb to them, using the entire soundfield throughout.
French DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are included, as are English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles.
The following special features are available:
- Real Steel Second Screen: Ringside with Director Shawn Levy: Disney describes this feature thusly: “interact with the movie on your iPad or computer while you watch the movie on your Blu-ray player!” Unfortunately, the app was not yet available when I watched the film.
- Countdown to the Fight — The Charlie Kenton Story (1080p, 13:51): A brief “Mockumentary” that features cast members in-character discussing the story of Charlie, Max, and Atom in a lead-up to the Atom/Zeus fight.
- Making of Metal Valley (1080p, 14:14): A comprehensive look at the four-day making of the movie’s “most complicated sequence” that sees Charlie and Max enter an old scrap yard where discarded robots have been laid to rest.
- Building the Bots (1080p, 5:38): A short look at the practice and purpose of designing original robots, both in the real and digital worlds.
- Sugar Ray Leonard: Cornerman’s Champ (1080p, 6:19): A look at boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard’s contributions to the film, with emphasis on his hand in the training of Hugh Jackman.
- Deleted & Extended Scenes (1080p, 17:49): Extended Meet Ambush and Deleted Butterfly Storyline.
- Bloopers (1080p, 2:36).
- DVD Copy (includes audio commentary track).
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