My Ten Cents On: Real Steel

When I saw the trailer, and most of it consisted of CGI robots beating the ever-loving circuitry out of each other, I was pretty unimpressed. The fact that I had seen movies like the last two Transformers sequels, which had a lot of budget and very little else going for it, I wasn’t expecting much from a movie that looked like it was based on Rock ’em, Sock ’em Robots. After all, how could a movie about a fighting robot that doesn’t have guns and doesn’t transform into cars be that great? The answer, by making it not about the robot but all about the building of a relationship between an estranged father, Charlie Kenton (played by Hugh Jackman) and his son, Max (played by Dakota Goyo). That was a great and welcome change from most CG movies that go for more flash and less substance.

I’m already feeling the points of my review flowing out, and not being a professional writer gives me the extra perk of screwing transitions and jumping into the review (though at some point, I’m probably going to have to work on this skill.) So, lets jump right into Real Steel!

+ The Plot

I won’t say that this is one of the better boxing plots I’ve seen. when you compare it to great emotional thrillers like Rocky, Cinderella Man and Raging Bull, it does pale in comparison. But what I can say is that this movie understands what most MMA-themed movies seem to forget, boxing/fighting movies are less about the fight and more about the development of the people behind it. Its always been about the internal struggles and the conflict of the protagonist within himself, as compared to simply whooping ass. While great action sequences are really fun to watch, rarely is it the gauge for a good boxing movie.

Real Steel proved to have a little more depth than most robotic movies in recent memory (and most Hugh Jackman movies in recent memory as well). Its not gonna win an Oscar, and you probably can see a few of the twists coming a mile away. But at least it gave the old college try, and given my expectations coming into the movie, it was a pretty pleasant surprise, and definitely a point in favor of this movie.

By making the fighter in this movie a robot, it did an interesting take on the sports movie formula, by making it all about the relationship and development of the coach, and in this case, with his kid. I mean, yes Million Dollar Baby did it first, and better, but I do like that there’s another movie out there that explores the development of the coach through out the story, and isn’t too depressing to boot. So all in all, despite the fact that its not the most original take I’ve seen, the plot left a positive mark on me.

+ Set was REAL

Despite the giant robot, most settings in the movie were like this, real, and shot pretty well I might add.

I’m glad that for the most part, the only thing not real about this movie was the steel robots fighting around. To my utter delight, this movie wasn’t overly CGI. Real Steel had a lot of scenes where they actually had a hollowed out robotic stand in for the actors to play off of, and for the most part (minus the climax) most of the sets were real and didn’t have CGI splashing all over the screen all the time. That was a welcome change, and it actually made the CG look better. What people like Michael Bay and George Lucas seem to have forgotten is that it’s almost always better to have one thing to focus on than to turn the screen into a giant visual effect explosion. If anything, George Lucas’ constant addition of CG elements is ruining the original Star Wars Trilogy, rather than making it better.

While Real Steel does have a lot of computer generated visuals in it, it doesn’t go overboard. Whether this was intentional or a fault of budget, it was a pretty welcome change from the crazy eye-gasm that most directors subject us to. Speaking of eye-gasm…

+ Evangeline Lilly… and the other cast members

*Invisible Man by 98 Degrees playing in the background*

While I started watching Lost because it had one of the hobbits from Lord of the Rings in it (yeah I was still high off of Lord of the Rings back then, and in a smaller way I still am), I stayed for Evangeline Lilly.  (*On a side note, Peter Jackson cast her as Tauriel in the two-part movie of The Hobbit, just one more reason to love this movie!) This girl is gorgeous and I was always left wondering why she never had more movie roles. Okay, she probably won’t win Oscars when put up to the likes of Meryl Streep or Charlize Theron, but as far as pretty faces goes, she’s up there. Sigh… and she has really pretty eyes.

For a movie like this, a cute female love interest is in order, and whereas people have commented how Natalie Portman was too good an actress for such a role, I’d question why ladies like January Jones, Gwyneth Paltrow, Megan Fox, and Hayley Atwell could get these roles and not Evangeline Lilly. She was perfect for the role and played it awesomely. In fact the only problem I had with her performance probably had to do more with the direction than with her performance. She did great. And did I mention she has pretty eyes?

You're gonna pay for making me put on a fat suit for X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Hugh Jackman wasn’t bad at all, he was typical Hugh which was good enough for this movie. The down-and-out boxer role suited him just fine. What was much more interesting was his relationship with his son in the film, played by Dakota Goyo. Their dynamic was definitely a “greater than the sum of its parts” pairing, since individually, you could say they were both typical at best, but together, they did a pretty good job at keeping me entertained.

The villains were also pretty fun. I have to tip my hat off to Kevin Durand, who plays a cowboy fight promoter. He put on a pretty good show, for the amount of screen time he was on there. He was a load of fun to watch and he aided in introducing the tone of the movie pretty well. They weren’t the only “actors” I liked though, because I really enjoyed the performances of…

+ The Robots

Pretty cool that this simple robot stands out because all the other robots are so flambuoyant.

I like how they designed the robots, I mean, for one thing, I could differentiate all the robots from one another. Unlike in the Transformers movies, where there’s Optimus Prime, Bumble Bee, and everybody else.

The creators of Real Steel really didn’t try and make their robots too mechanical and gave them a “giant kick-ass toy” feel. I really appreciated that the movie didn’t take itself too seriously in that regard. This movie took to heart a pretty simple mantra: “If you’re gonna scrutinize every physical detail of the existence of giant fighting robots in the near future, then you’re probably not the people who’ll enjoy this movie.”

The cast of the Transformers movies, Optimus Prime's there on the far right and with him are... uh....

Even more than the robots designs in themselves, I loved how they were integrated into the world, such as the “WRB“, World Robot Boxing league, how they had become a world-wide phenomenon, or how they had fights from giant arenas to the illegal underground fights. The movie covered a lot of bases, and within the scope of the narrative, it all felt believable. But more than anything, I have to give the greatest amount of credit to the…

+ Editing

The movie runs for 127 minutes, just over two hours. And yet when I left the cinema, it didn’t feel like two hours. The movie has high points and low points at the right time, the editing timed the movie perfectly so that the movie never felt bored. The time flew by and I got lost in the movie. That more than anything was enough for me to thoroughly enjoy it. The soundtrack and sound effects too were pretty well done. The music helped propel the movie and more than the visuals, the music was what emphasized the pace.

On an interesting note, that is all I noticed about the sounds and editing. And that in itself is a huge compliment to the post production of this movie. Editing has a dubious distinction in that great editing is supposed to be unnoticed. And really, this movie had great editing if that were the case. I mean, maybe if I turned my analytical eye on the movie I’d spot all the problems, but as I’ve mentioned before, that’s not the point. That being said, there were still a couple of things about this movie that got to me.

– The Climax

To quote both Charlie and Max Kenton, "You know you're talking to a robot, right?"

Those of you who frequent my blog, you know that I’m not in the business of spoiling, at least in my general reviews. So I’ll just say that the final battle had one climatic scene when all the emotional power should come to its peak. And it kind of goes over the top. Its like they had a checklist of every single cliche of sports boxing movies and rushed them all into about 30 seconds of airtime. It came so far out of left field, it was so randomly and hastily patched together, that I started laughing in my seat.

Alright, I’m not above admitting that there’s the possibility that my pretentious film-buff side had come out, and that the final scene was really touching and powerful, but given how well the movie was up until that point, I felt that it was the one part that really felt out of place.

– Needed better villain development

This movie didn’t really have a central villain. It ran through every villain stereotype in the book. It went from a) the retired boxer-turned-promoter whom the lead owes money to, to b) “the man”, who’s a woman in this one, the really wealthy owner of the most advanced technology that makes their fighter the technically superior one and c) the extremely arrogant scientist/artist whose creation is unrivaled anywhere in the world, all the while battling with e) Charlie Kenton‘s inner demons.

I wouldn't mind seeing more of her with her very exotic accent in this movie.

I have to say that Kevin Durand as the Texan promoter Ricky, Karl Yune as scientist Tak Mashido and Olga Fonda as billionaire heiress Farra Lamkova, all played their roles well, and their characters weren’t half bad. If only they had more screen time to up their villain status. The bad guys never felt that intimidating because they weren’t given enough time to do so, which I think they could have. I get that they looked at the clock and went, “oh crap! we’re running for 2 hours already?! oh okay, fine, lets leave it as is.” But they could have dialed down one villain in favor of another, or shaved off time here and there to accommodate some scenes to trump up how strong the bad guy is.

You could go either the path of any of the Rocky movies, where he trains up to fight one incredibly strong and seemingly unbeatable foe, whom the whole time they trump up to be the hardest challenge the fighter has ever faced, or you could go the path of The Fighter and make it all about the relationships of the people in the boxing camp, anywhere in between just seems weak.

My Cent’s Worth: 7/10

For what it was, I was thoroughly entertained. This movie was well worth the price of admission. I expected little from this movie initially, and that may have been one reason why I loved it so much. Given that it had a goal to be a fun 2-hour joy ride that was meant to entertainment more than be deep and insightful, it passed with flying colors and definitely gets my mark of approval. If you haven’t watched it yet, and thought that it would look kind of like a cheap Transformers rip-off, I say go and watch this movie, you’ll probably have fun.

Posted on November 1, 2011, in Film Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I’m not really a fan of sci-fi movie, so I haven’t heard about this movie yet.. I guess transformers is much better than to this new movie…

    • I wouldn’t actually compare them, this is more like a Boxing movie than robot transformers. I enjoyed Real Steel more than Transformers 2 and 3. Its not a deep movie, and you should watch it only if you’re in the mood for light entertainment, but if you are willing to give it a try, why not?

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