Have you ever seen a movie that doesn’t know what it’s trying to be? Films with such identity crises are train wrecks. You'd think that the bigger they are, the harder they'd fall, making for fun disasters to watch, but such is not always the case. Take 'Real Steal,' for example.
In the future, boxing disappears. Not entirely, but the way we know it is gone. It turns out that the boxing leagues, in an attempt to win over the bloodthirsty fans of MMA, started pitting remote controlled robots against one another. Finally, fans of grisly brutal violence could see contestants dismembered and decapitated.
Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) was one of the last human boxers to take the ring. Just as he was about to gain the world's attention, robo-boxing picked up and he was left in the dust. Trying to transfer that same positive boxing energy to the future of the sport, Charlie took to becoming the programmer behind the controller – only he was never as good at it as he was in the ring.
Now, with debt from bad bets owed to several powerful loan sharks, Charlie doesn’t have a robot to fight with. Every time he gets a new prospective robot, Charlie's ego and arrogance cause him to blow it and lose any chance he had of making it big. Things only get worse when his ex-wife passes away and custody of their child, who he hasn't seen in years, is up in the air.
If Charlie had no other choice but to take his kid into the dirty and dangerous world of underground robo-boxing, it would be one thing. But he basically sells the kid to his ex-wife's sister on the condition that he take the eleven-year-old for a few months while she and her husband vacation in Italy. (If you can't tell, almost all adults are made out to be selfish fools.) While stealing spare robot parts one night, Charlie’s bastard kid Max finds an intact first-generation sparring bot that he believes can go the distance and play in the big leagues. For some reason, Charlie seems to deem it a worthwhile activity to appease the kid’s desire, and they go for it.
'Real Steel' opens like an indie drama and quickly turns into a zany and odd Spielberg-style picture, showing robots go head-to-head with angry bulls in county fair rodeos. It's like 'Over the Top' meets 'A.I.'. Shortly after it establishes that tone, we meet the annoying kid Max. I can't stand bad attitude kids who mouth off, so why would I want to watch a 127-minute movie with one?
What I would like to see are robots punching it out – and I'm sure that's what audiences are expecting to see with 'Real Steel,' but you're not going to find it here. Believe it or not, the majority of 'Real Steel' consists of talking, talking, and more talking. The characters never shut up and let anything happen. 'Real Steel' is hardly about robo-boxing, but the characters behind it.
A huge problem with this movie is that the movie doesn’t have a villain or any struggle. There's literally no bad guy to defeat. The second half of the film tries to create one, but there's no gravity given to the situation. Charlie and Max decide to pit their robot against the most famous undefeated bot in the world – but the people behind the other bot aren't evil or bad people. And pitting their bot against the other is like pitting me against Mike Tyson. I wouldn't last more than three seconds in the ring. Yet, of course, somehow theirs does.
The moment that I checked out of 'Real Steel' was when Max puts his bot into "shadow mode," a setting that makes him mirror the actions of his trainer, and begins dancing. Disney just had to put its stamp on this movie. Really? A kid and a robot dancing to hip hop? 'Real Steel' is nothing more than scrap metal – especially with its climax that resembles someone playing Wii Sports boxing all by himself.
Considering the high amount of slow-motion spinning shots and non-stop product placement, 'Real Steal' is two lens flares shy of being a Michael Bay movie. With the Oscar nominations announced this week, instead of spending your time and money on this piece of garbage, catch up on some of the nominees.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Touchstone/DreamWorks have placed 'Real Steel' in a two-disc vortex keepcase that slides vertically into a slick, shiny and textured cardboard slipcase. Included is a Region A/B/C BD-50 and a DVD of the film. There's also another combo pack available that includes a Digital Copy. At Walmart, the disc comes with a $5 code for Vudu rentals. The typical Buena Vista fanfare plays upon inserting the disc – vanity reels, a menu that makes you select the viewing language early on and trailers (for 'The Avengers,' 'War Horse' and 'The Help') - but you can skip right over it all by simply pushing the "top menu" button on your controller.
I'm always bugged when bad movies get fantastic Blu-ray releases. Fans of 'Real Steel' will love the nearly flawless 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode and it's wide 2.35:1 aspect ratio.
I looked for problems with the video quality, but there was literally only one to be found – aliasing. And considering our underdog sparring bot has a mesh guard (like that of a fencing mask) protecting his face, aliasing is a frequent nuisance. Aside from that, there's literally nothing else bogging the picture down.
Shot digitally, there are no cleanliness flaws. The picture is just as sharp as it clean. Details are always visible. Individual grains of sand can be seen on the robot's muddy exterior when they kid finds it. As Max hoses it down, the tiniest of water droplets can be seen soaring across the screen. This level of detail is consistent. Colors are rich and vibrant and the black levels are pitch perfect. Shadows are perfectly delineated. The color palette is fittingly warm - also like that of a Michael Bay movie.
There aren't any instances of edge enhancement, DNR, banding, artifacts or noise. Aside from the aliasing, this disc is flawless.
As expected, 'Real Steel' features an awesome 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track not only in English, but in French as well. Where the video quality suffers one small problem, the audio is absolutely problem-free.
Music is well spread throughout the channels and is perfectly mixed with the dialog and effects. Never does one overpower the other. They all work together harmoniously. The effects are especially noteworthy because of how extensive they are. Environmental sounds from off-screen objects are constantly emitting from all channels. The rear and surround speakers are just as actively engaged as the front and center speakers. It's highly impressive. From big sounds like crowded arenas and pouring thunder storms, any moment can be used as an audio demo.
The sub-woofer is also an active part of this mix. Whenever these massive robots begin walking around or punching one another out, LFE rumbles the house as if you were seated in the ring with them.
From surround sounds and imaging to dynamics and balance, this great mix will brilliantly show off your theater's capabilities.
I'm not opposed to big dumb action movies, but when you take out the "big" and "action" it leaves the movie dumb. I'm better than that. You're better than that. But 'Real Steel' thinks you're nothing more than a dummy. It's insulting how bad it is. 'Real Steel' does nothing more than add new CG and effects to a cliched and formulaic story. There isn't a single ounce of creativity outside the design departments. It's run of the mill popcorn fluff, a real waste of a nearly flawless Blu-ray release. Aside from frequent aliasing, the picture and audio qualities are perfectly demo-worthy. Chock full of hearty special features, the Blu-ray is one that fans will relish in - it's just too bad that the movie couldn't match the quality of its release.