Real Steel (2011)

2013 #78
Shawn Levy | 121 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA & India / English | 12 / PG-13

Real SteelOnce upon a time, Real Steel would have been rated PG, been aimed at 7- to 10-year-old boys, and would probably have been quite the success. In the current Hollywood moviemaking climate, however, it’s rated PG-13, consequently aimed at teenage boys and grown men who still have the tastes of teenage boys, and seems to be regularly slated in online comment sections.

That’s a shame because, despite some corny and cheesy bits, it generally works. It begins by setting out some apparently predictable plots, but then several didn’t play out entirely as I expected (I mean, it’s hardly revolutionary, but it wasn’t quite as blatant as I was expecting it to be when it came to certain resolutions). The fights aren’t the most exciting robot action sequences ever put on film (or digital file), but are suitably punchy for their purpose. The final duel is perhaps not as triumphant as the filmmakers think it is, but I’ve seen worse.

Other bits falter more obviously: there’s some horrendously clunky exposition, and it’s so desperate to be set in the near future that its future-history is practically our present already, which undermines it to an extent. OK, it’s not high on realism, but when someone says, “ah, that’s a Generation 2 robot from 2014,” you just think, “well, this isn’t going to really happen, is it?”

Really steelySome things are also distinctly unresolved: just why was Evil Lady prepared to pay $200,000 for a no-hope junkyard robot? I figured there was going to be some Nasty Secret to come out, especially as there’d been hints of the robot having extra abilities… but no. And what was up with the kid being 11 but Jackman always thinking he was 9? Figured that was going somewhere too. There’s talk now of a sequel — I hope such random bits weren’t intended as elaborate seeding for a follow-up, because that’s just irritating. That said, it would be nice if whoever’s in charge spotted those things and built on them in the sequel’s story.

For all that online moaning I mentioned, to my surprise I haven’t seen anyone complaining about that oft-cited bugbear, product placement. It’s glaringly obvious at frequent intervals… but it’s also pretty well integrated into the world — no “mm, Converse All Stars, vintage 2004!” moments here. (Funnily enough, Dr. Pepper — which is fairly prominent, though not so much as other things — was used with permission, but wasn’t paid for by… whoever makes it. So it’s not product placement. So if you do ever see someone moaning about the product placement of Dr Pepper in Real Steel, you can tell them they’re a moron, or something.)

Feel the steelReal Steel is a good family movie, masquerading as a teenage-focused robot action blockbuster thanks to its 12 and PG-13 certificates. The true best audience for it will be those around the same age as the central kid: they won’t find him as annoying as older viewers will, and the whole robot fighting thing will just seem exciting.

3 out of 5

This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2013. Read more here.

2 thoughts on “Real Steel (2011)

  1. Wasn’t this a Twilight Zone episode? It was. I’m still working my way through my Blu-ray set of all five seasons and I’m sure its ‘inspired by’ an episode from one of the early seasons.

    Actually watching Twilight Zone can be a sobering experience- I watched a Season 3 episode the other day (Little Girl Lost, I think it was) and it was, I swear, Poltergeist without the ghosties. I mean, it was blatant. It was Poltergeist in a 25-minute black & white capsule. There aint no such thing as an original movie, it seems.

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    • If memory serves (and it does, because I just checked Wikipedia), it’s a short story by Richard Matheson that was previously adapted (by Matheson himself) into a season 5 episode of The Twilight Zone, starring Lee Marvin.

      I think a lot of things have their roots in something else. Even if not deliberately, there are only so many ideas — for instance, I’ve heard judges on scriptwriting competitions tell of seeing entries with the same concept, or even beat-for-beat the same story. Not plagiarism, just almighty coincidence. See also how often Hollywood makes two (or more) movies on the same topic, like Deep Impact and Armageddon, or Oliver Stone’s Alexander and Baz Luhrmann’s-that-got-cancelled-because-of-Stone’s.

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