Real Steel – Director: Shawn Levy

Real Steel is the story of how a man and his estranged son reconnect thanks to their love of fighting robots. If you think that premise sounds awful, wait until you see the actual film.

There are so many things wrong with this movie; I hardly know where to begin. Real Steel takes place in the near future…the year 2020 to be exact…where evidently the only thing that has changed in the past decade is that human boxing has been banned and technology has advance enough to create fighting robots, and not much else.

Hugh Jackman plays Charlie Kenton, a down-and-out former boxer who is now reduced to traipsing around local state fairs, carnivals, etc. trying to make a living by offering up bouts with his run-down robots who, gets beat early in the film by a living, breathing bull. I understand the concept of anti-heroes and characters that need to find redemption but there has to be something intrinsically likeable about that character for the story to work. Jackman’s Charlie Kenton has none. He is a drunk, a liar, seemingly amoral, a bad businessman and a dead-beat dad.

The extremely predictable plot finds Charlie in charge of his 11-year-old son, after the son’s mother (an old girlfriend Charlie evidently has had no contact with for years) unexplainably kicks the bucket. Inconvenient for Charlie, but very convenient for our filmmakers. Of course Charlie acts like a total turd toward the young-un at first, and of course they will be best buddies by the end of the film. That storyline is helped out by the “evil” Aunt who actually wants Max, but is well-off, so obviously must be bad.

This is being touted by Disney as a family film, directed at 11-year-old boys. But the violence is so disturbing that anyone who thinks this is good family entertainment ought to be neutered. The robot-on-robot violence is fine…I understand carton violence…and actually the robot-fighting sequences are the best part of this film. But Charlie gets the living crap kicked out of him by the bad guys, right in front of poor Max’s eyes. After what he went through, Charlie should have been in a coma for a month, instead he appears unscathed the next day. Lesson to 11-year-old impressionable viewers…it’s OK to beat the hell out of someone, they’ll be fine tomorrow.

The final fault in this pathetic picture is the “surprising” boxing strategy Charlie uses in the film’s inevitable big fight. Any boxing fan, even a casual one, would be aware of Muhammad Ali’s “rope-a-dope” tactic. The only thing I found surprising about it here is that we’re expected to believe it would work on robots.

The original story that Real Steel is based on came from an episode of Twilight Zone that aired in 1963. Let your kids watch that (it’s available on DVD) and spare them this pile of crap.

Oh, I almost forgot…the prominent product placement in this film is obscene…Budweiser, HP Computers, Bing and Dr. Pepper get almost as much screen time as Jackman.  Another reason to steer clear of Real Steel.

Marty Duda

Click here to watch the trailer for Real Steel

Click here to watch a scene from Steel,  the 1963 episode of Twilight Zone Real Steel is based on: