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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Real Steel

January 22nd, 2012

Real Steel - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack, and Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy Combo Pack

Shawn Levy has made an impressive movie career directing films that audiences love, while not winning over a lot of fans in the critic community. Of the eight films he has directed, only one of them, Date Night, earned overall positive reviews. Real Steel almost made it to that level, but if my review counted, would I help it over the top? Or would I move its score in the other direction?

The Movie

It's Rock'em Sock'em Robots: The Movie. Do I need to describe the plot in more details than that? Okay, fine.

Hugh Jackman stars as Charlie Kenton, whom we meet as he drives to a small town as part of a rodeo. He doesn't ride horses, but he operates a robot boxer named Ambush. Ambush is here to fight a bull for some quick cash, and Charlie needs it. He's already $60,000 in the whole to a couple of people and bets Ricky, the bull's owner, another $20,000. Charlie loses and tries to sneak away before paying. He is spotted by two men, but they were not sent by Ricky to collect. They were sent to inform Charlie that his ex-girlfriend had died, meaning he has custody of his eleven-year old son, Max.

At the custody hearing, Max's aunt, Debra, and her husband, Marvin, want custody of Max, which Charlie is more than willing to do. At least until he sees the size of Debra's wedding ring. Then he decides to extort $100,000 grand from them.

...

I understand this movie is about the redemption of Charlie Kenton, but threatening to send your own son to a foster home in order to extort $100,000! Come on. There are bounds of reason here. If you want to enjoy the movie, pretend this scene never happens.

Anyhow, so Charlie gets $100,000 from Marvin, half now and half when he and Debra get back from vacation in Italy. He uses that money to buy Noisy Boy, an older robot, and trains him at Bailey Tallet. His plan is to dump the kid with Bailey for a couple of months, go on the road to fight with Noisy Boy, and collect the other $50,000 in August. That plan doesn't work out the way he had hoped, as Max demands to go with him. Also, his first fight with Noisy Boy ends in disaster.

So Charlie's back to square one as far as his money problems are concerned. As he and Max scrounge for parts in a dump, they find more than they were hoping for. They find a full robot, Atom. Atom is an older generation sparring bot, meaning he is designed to take a lot of damage, but he can't dish it out. Maybe with Charlie's boxing skill (he was a boxer before the robots took over the sport) and Max's programing skill, they can turn him into a champion. And while making it, they can do a little father son bonding as well.

I've already gone over the film's biggest flaw. Charlie's an ass. He's such a big ass for so much of the movie that it is hard to accept his redemption. It would have been had Charlie been less aggressively bad as a father and just a neglectful / naïve father. Not knowing how to raise a kid would have made perfect sense. Trying to sell the kid to Marvin is less acceptable. I would have even been more forgiving of the film's schmaltzier moments had Charlie started out more sympathetic. This includes the romance between Charlie and Bailey, which does seem a little superfluous in the movie, but at least it is handled well by the two actors.

As for the boxing plot and the actual fight scenes, these are more successful, albeit not exactly groundbreaking. The overall underdog plot has been seen countless times before, while the actual scenes of boxing rely a little too much on montages and quick cuts. I guess you can't expect to watch a 30-minute boxing match, but more flow would have helped it at least somewhat. I do like the designs of the robots and they had enough personality to draw you in enough for the purposes of this film. They are certainly better than anything in the live action Transformers franchise.

In short, the film has enough flaws that very few people are going to call it a great movie. On the other hand, it has enough strengths, and enough energy, that most people in the target audience will be entertained.

The Extras

Extras on the DVD start with an audio commentary track with Shawn Levy. It's better than most solo tracks and he has more than enough energy to last the full two hours. Up next are two and and half minutes of outtakes. There are also two featurettes, a 14-minute making of featurette focusing on the Junkyard scene, and a 6-minute featurette on the creation of the robots.

The Blu-ray includes most of those extras, but you can only listen to the audio commentary track as part of the second screen extra. Since I don't have anything compatible with the second screen, I can't test that out. I would prefer a simple Picture-in-Picture track as an option for people without an iPad, tablet, or laptop. There are 18 minutes of deleted / extended scenes, with intros by Shawn Levy. Countdown to the Fight: The Charlie Kenton Story is a 14-minute faux featurette on the climactic fight in the movie. It's in character and quite fun. Finally, there's a six-minute featurette called Sugar Ray Leonard: Cornerman's Champ that looks at Sugar Ray Leonard helping Hugh Jackman act the part of a former boxer. That's a fine selection of extras, including one that's pushing the technology.

Moving onto the technical presentation, the film cost $100 million to make, and you can tell. This is seriously close to reference level material and there's nothing really to complain about. The audio is not quite as good as the video, as the 7.1 track is not quite as immersive as I would like and the bass is not quite as powerful as I would like. That said, those are minor complaints in the overall scheme of things.

The Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack is $7 more than the DVD, or about 40% more. This is a little on the high side compared to the average, but you get what you pay for. You can also spend an extra $3 for the digital copy.

The Verdict

Real Steel is not a great movie, but is it fun to watch. Most people know the saying, "Man cannot live on bread alone." However, sometimes what you want is just some fluffy white bread. If that's what you want, then Read Steel will deliver. The extras on the DVD are enough to warrant purchasing over just rentals, while the Blu-ray / Blu-ray Combo Pack offer enough exclusives and audio / video quality to make them worth paying the extra amount.


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Filed under: Video Review, Real Steel