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Movie Review: Real Steel

October 7, 2011

Real Steel – A DreamWorks Pictures’ Release

Release Date: October 7th, 2011

Rated PG for violence, language, not recommended for young children

Running time: 127 minutes

Shawn Levy (dir.)

John Gatins (screenplay)

Dan Gilroy (story)

Jeremy Leven (story)

Based on the short story Steel by Richard Matheson

Danny Elfman (music)

Hugh Jackman as Charlie Kenton

Dakota Goyo as Max Kenton

Evangeline Lilly as Bailey Tallet

Anthony Mackie as Finn

Kevin Durand as Ricky

Hope Davis as Aunt Debra

James Rebhorn as Marvin

Marco Ruggeri as Cliff

Karl Yune as Tak Mashido

Olga Fonda as Farra Lemkova

©DreamWorks Pictures.  All Rights Reserved.

Charlie (Hugh Jackman), Max (Dakota Goyo) and Atom in Real Steel.

Our reviews below:


Real Steel Review By John C.

*** (out of 4)

The first thing I would like to note about Real Steel, a movie that takes place in the underground world of robot boxing, is that it is a lot of fun.  Of course I’m going to be more in-depth and talk about the strong performances and surprisingly thrilling action sequences, but that’s all you really need to know before seeing it for yourself.  Directed by Shawn Levy with the same sort of feel good energy that he brought to his previous films like Date Night and Night at the Museum, this is one of the most entertaining surprises of the fall movie season.  It doesn’t vie for Oscar votes, but I sure had a good time at the theatre.

Charlie (Hugh Jackman) is a washed up boxer who’s career has been taken over by hulking metal machines.  Having his prize robot Ambush destroyed by a bull and owing a large sum of money to the sleazy organizer of the fight, Ricky (Kevin Durand), Charlie gets even more behind in paying the bills to his girlfriend, Bailey (Evangeline Lily).  But when he is forced to take care of his estranged son Max (Toronto’s Dakota Goyo in a breakout role), they both find an unlikely champion in a discarded robot named Atom.  Built around 2014, Atom is a shadow bot who can mimic and remember the actions of his human counterparts, allowing him to display humanoid qualities.  Father and son take the robot on the road, bonding with each other while beating the odds at the arena.

The performances are all strong, but the special effects are one of the big things that carry the film.  Although CGI and motion capture animation is used while the robots are fighting, practical machines were built and used in many of the domestic scenes.  Atom is the most appealing of the robot characters, with a human-like face and one heck of a dance routine.  There is also a lot more here than the noisy action of a Transformers film, as director Shawn Levy knows how to tell a good story and grounds the fight scenes with smoothly riveting cinematography.  These sequences are big and exciting, but it’s very easy to care who wins the fight.

The film doesn’t drag for a second of the running time, with the story and action sequences both keeping the audience thoroughly engaged and entertained.  The father-son dynamic between Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo is always believable and provides the heart of the story, allowing us to genuinely care about what happens during the suspenseful action sequences.  But most importantly, Real Steel is a lot of fun.  And that is the best argument I can make as to why it should be experienced on the big screen.


Real Steel Review by Erin V.  

***1/2 (out of 4)

The year is 2016 and human boxers have been replaced by the new tough sport of robot boxing for the past few years.  Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is a former boxer, now trying to make ends meet by buying used fighter-bots and getting them underground fights for cash.  When his estranged son Max (Dakota Goyo) ends up under his care for the summer, for the first time, Charlie has to be a father.  At first he figures Max will just get in the way, but then when the boy discovers an old sparring bot at the junk yard and begins to fix him up, it seems that both of their luck is about to change.  The new bot’s name is Atom – a G2 bot from a few years back – and a true underdog in the world of robot boxing.   But when Max insists they find him a fight, they end up a bigger sensation than they could have imagined, leading to a shot at the Real Steel championships.

All of the actors here to do a fine job in their roles, and help this film to be a hit.  A pleasant surprise is how relative newcomer Dakota Goyo (he played young Thor in a brief scene this past May) more than holds his own playing opposite Hugh Jackman.  He brings a smart, charming, and slightly cocky (but never annoying) persona to 11-year-old Max, without seeming false or artificial as some young actors do.

Although the film comes in at a relatively long 2 hours, 7 minutes, the story and acting allows us to become invested and never bored.  Well-written, this is not just a robot-boxing film though – at its heart, it is a father-son story.  It helps that like any great sports movie, a fair amount of the running time is matches.  The final 20 minutes plays out at the championships – much like last month’s Warrior.

I saw the film in a gorgeous AVX auditorium, with premium sound and screen quality.  The robot scenes (done with animatronics/CGI) are spectacular to say the least.  This is not Transformers – the tone and genre is different, plus we actually get to see what’s going on here and there aren’t too many bots to keep track of.  Back in August, I actually had the opportunity to check out a few of the robots used in the film at Fan Expo in Toronto, and the craftsmanship is quite admirable.  Atom in particular manages to be quite expressive, even with his simplistic face, making him seem alive despite being clearly controlled by the characters in the film.  I will note that while the SFX sounds are superb, I did find it a little loud at times, but I guess that all adds to the experience.  The score by Danny Elfman also fits and sets the tone well.

A film that will be enjoyed by families (it’s a PG-13 and is quite story-driven, so kids at least closer to 10+) and adults, Real Steel is one well-worth checking out in theatres.  I must also note that it is a welcome relief to see a film as good as this one confident to stand on its own two feet without a needless 3D transfer as well.


Real Steel Review by Nicole

***1/2 (out of 4)

We’ve all seen boxing films where we root for the underdog.  Real Steel is unique in that the boxers are steel robots.  Set about 10 years into the future, the film follows Charlie (Hugh Jackman), a washed up ex-boxer who pits robots against each other, placing bets on which machine will win.  But when his ex-girlfriend dies, she leaves behind their 11-year-old son, Max (Dakota Goyo).  Max is as strong-willed as his father, making the relationship rocky at first.

When a father-son trip to the robot junkyard almost results in disaster, one robot’s presence saves Max’s life.  He brings it home to discover that the robot, named Atom, is a motion capture “shadow bot” built in 2014.  Atom has bright blue eyes that match those of Max, as well as an endearing smile that is created by a tear in his face grill.  Max teaches Atom how to dance and would like to enroll him in boxing.  But this is something that Charlie has to teach him.  Between Atom and the gritty world of underground robot boxing, Charlie and Max develop the parent-child bond that never should have been broken in the first place.

Real Steel, like most stories about boxing, is a feel good film with a great message about family.  The world of robot boxing is strangely believable.  What works about the futuristic elements is that they are not that dramatic, only relying on technologies that are currently available, albeit quite expensive.  All of the robots in the film are real, except in the fight scenes.  The real robots have plastic frames and would break if used in boxing.  Although CGI animated, the robots look like they actually break in the fight scenes, which may frighten younger children.  However, unlike in a lot of robot films, the robots in Real Steel are only real in the way that a teddy bear is, in that their “personal ties” come from their owners.

The real characters in the film are Charlie and Max, believable played by Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo.  It is seldom in North American that a breakout child actor performs so well, especially against a veteran actor.  Real Steel is a charming family drama that young and old can enjoy.  The movie looks great on the big screen and is worth seeing, especially in IMAX.


Real Steel Review by Maureen

*** (out of 4)

On the surface it looks like Real Steel could be just another boxing movie.  The truth is, this has real heart and lots of exciting action courtesy of some pretty amazing eight foot tall fighting robots.  Real Steel is way more than just another boxing movie.

Based on the sci-fi story and Twilight Zone episode, Steel by Richard Matheson, Real Steel takes place in a not-too-distant future Earth where robots have replaced human fighters in the ring.  Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is a former boxer who now tries to earn enough money through a series of underground robot fights so he can pay off his debts.  When he has robots like Ambush getting beat by a ornery bull in a questionable fight organized by tough guy Ricky (Kevin Durand), Charlie has to fight harder and smarter to get some cash.

As ir turns out finding the right robot and the right fight isn’t the only problem Charlie has to face.  When an ex-girlfriend dies, she leaves behind his eleven-year-old son Max (Dakota Goyo) who Charlie agrees to look after over the summer in exchange for cash to buy his next robot, Noisy Boy.  Charlie and Max don’t get along at first, but find they have a mutual interest in robot fighting.  So when Max finds an old shadow bot named Atom at the recycling dump, it’s this robot who brings the two guys closer.

Real Steel is a real crowd pleaser.  The robot fighting sequences are exciting and the robots themselves quite impressive to see.  Atom, the older shadow bot has a mesh face that is almost human-like.  Some of the best scenes are the ones between Max and Atom.  Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo both give believable and sincere performances as the reluctant father/son pair.  With a real feel good ending, good acting, cool robots and a great Danny Elfman score, Real Steel is worth seeing on the big screen.


Real Steel Review by Tony

*** (out of 4)

Real Steel is a traditional story about an underdog contender in mixed martial arts between robots in the near future. Broke and in debt to several promoters including white trash Ricky (Kevin Durand), former boxer Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) needs a new robot. When Charlie’s estranged eleven year old son Max (Dakota Goyo) loses his mother and is about to be handed over to his aunt (Hope Davis) and her rich older husband Marvin (James Reborn), Charlie makes a deal with Marvin. Charlie will not contest the adoption for a considerable sum of money if Max gets to stay with him over the summer. Bad luck hits again, but Max turns out to be gifted in robotics and in a junkyard finds and upgrades an old fighting robot called Atom. The gym housing his robotic fighters was inherited by the daughter Bailey Tallet (Evangeline Lilly) of Charlie’s former trainer. Charlie has a history with Bailey, who gets on well with Max. Atom is programmed to respond to voice commands and also has a shadow function capable of learning fight moves from Charlie and dance moves from Max. Going up against the huge two-headed champ Zeus will not be easy. Backed by the super rich Russian Farra Lemkova (Olga Fonda) and programmed by the arrogant genius Karl Yune (Tak Mashido), Zeus has so far made quick work of all contenders.

Directed by Shawn Levy, Real Steel has all the excitement and redemption of a sports film like Warrior without any humans getting hurt (at least in the ring), and the developing relationship between father and son is also touching. Hugh Jackman is brilliant as expected, supported by a fine cast with Dakota Goyo particularly good as Max. At just over two hours, it seemed a bit long toward the middle but the last hour or so is gripping, much like Warrior. Beautifully shot using motion capture from real fighters such as Sugar Ray Leonard, the fight action is always exciting, a bit like Transformers without all the mess and noise, but the sound track does get loud at times, with an exciting score from Danny Elfman.


Consensus: With strong leading performances from Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo as well as energetic direction from Shawn Levy, Real Steel features surprisingly thrilling sequences of robot boxing and delivers a lot of fast-paced fun to a wide demographic of audiences.  ***1/4 (out of 4)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 7, 2011 12:43 am

    Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots? 3 stars? Really? I guess stranger things have happened (Transformers).


    • October 7, 2011 1:15 am

      Yes, stranger things have happened. I think we were all surprised at how much we liked Real Steel. But it deserves a high rating because of the strong performances, heartfelt story and the sequences of robot boxing are surprisingly a lot of fun.

      Thanks for reading!

      -John C.


  2. Heather Von Zuben permalink
    October 12, 2011 10:10 pm

    We went and saw this on the weekend and it was great! I loved how it compared to Rocky. Even the music seemed to follow the same rhythm pattern at some points. Great movie to see with your family!!!


    • October 12, 2011 11:15 pm

      Glad to hear that you enjoyed Real Steel! Who knew a movie robot boxing would be this thrilling. I agree – it could make a great double bill with Rocky.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

      -John C.


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