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December 05, 2022

Real Steel: Movie Review

By Bernie and Sand Pilarski

Bernie said:

So, I made a mistake. I talked Sand into going to see Skyline. I admit it. No hiding behind any excuses; despite my publicly professed love for my wife, I did indeed subject her to seeing that movie, and I thought there might never be a sufficient way to make amends.

Well, after today, we might be a little more even. Sand wanted to see Real Steel. I was ambivalent, but because she is my wife, and because we have a true partnership, I agreed to accompany her to the movie house.

Real Steel is a story (yawn) about a one-time boxer who (yawn ... nod off) has no common sense, no self respect, no responsibility, and no depth as a character. He has a kid with whom he has had no contact for eleven years who re-enters his life because of the death of the biological mother. The kid has no common sense, a sugar dependency, a bad attitude, and no depth as a character. There are a few other characters in the movie, but they are cardboard cutouts that make no sense, are poorly portrayed, and have no depth as characters.

Then there are the robots. Potentially the stars of the movie, they were just kind of there, although Atom, the good guy robot does have a few scenes where it is hinted that he's more than just a robot, but then that whole idea is just dropped. Mostly the robots just beat the hell out of each other.

In the course of one final robot beating, all the characters of the story have an unlikely catharsis, the various tenuous threads of the story collapse on the floor amidst the robot detritus left over from the hell-beating, and redemption is had by one and all.

There was a possibility of a story here -- robot surrogates in the boxing ring -- but that angle was not developed. There was a potential for human drama with the absentee father, or the second chance for the down and out guy, or maybe even the long suffering girlfriend who likes the guy's kid from a former relationship angle, but none of these was more than window dressing.

Except for the robots themselves, there was nothing of note in the set design or the art, the cutting was choppy, the writing lame, and the acting almost non-existent. The only two characters given any chance to make a statement were Hugh Jackman as Charlie Kenton the ex-boxer, and Dakota Goyo as Max, Charlie's young son. Goyo may one day be a fine actor, but he did not show it in this role, and while I think that Jackman is an excellent actor, he could not salvage his character. It was if neither he nor the writers could figure out exactly what they wanted Charlie Kenton to be -- sometimes sweet, sometimes vile, sometimes smart, sometimes stupid, always clueless.

Let me clarify: this movie is not as bad as Skyline. There never has been, and there may never be another movie that bad. But this is a movie that squanders a good premise and a talented actor on bad writing and unfocused direction.

If you want to see this movie, save your money and wait till it comes out on TV. My guess is that it will be there shortly.

Sand said:

Up front, Bernie and I disagree on this film. He obviously thought it stank, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

I've read reviews that say Real Steel is a ripoff of Rocky movies and some film called Over the Top. (Hmm. If Stallone did both of them, then wasn't Stallone ripping off his own movies?) However, this is immaterial to me, as I have never liked Stallone and only saw him in The Expendables because I thought Schwarzenegger and Willis were in it. (I was ripped off on that occasion.) Without having seen Rocky, or Over the Top, this was an acceptable movie theme to me: ex-boxer, total screw-up loser finds himself confronted with fatherhood, and now what does he have to do to get this kid out of his life, and how will that change him?



Charlie and his kid, Max, have basically never met. Their only common ground is Max's mother ... and gaming. For Max, it's online gaming and computers, for Charlie, it's his passion for boxing ... and the computerized version of it that pits robot boxers against each other. Boxing is all Charlie really knows, but with human boxing gone by the wayside, he seeks his fulfillment through the junk robots he buys and loses, and loses.

Max is the orphan, his mother suddenly dead, unwanted by his father Charlie, inconvenient to his aunt's rich husband Marvin. Ass over teakettles in debt, Charlie agrees to keep Max off Marvin's hands for $50,000 up front, for a limited period of time.

Through the irresponsible behavior of both Max the kid and Charlie the biological father, Max nearly loses his life, but winds up with a "sparring robot" -- one designed to take a beating over and over again.

Gosh, that sounds like Charlie, doesn't it? Always the loser, always thinking he'll make something worthwhile, always taking the beating.

After a visit to a robot boxing match, the kid is hooked on the real-time gaming aspect, and wants his junk sparring robot to compete. It is his very own robot, and he wants to make this robot a champ, himself.

Now the characters. Except for the robot, Charlie and Max (Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo) are the focus. Max has a lot of resentment because Charlie deserted him as an infant, and Charlie just sees the kid as a way to pick up some extra bucks. Both of them are obnoxious, weak, selfish, and bull-headed. They want what they want, and the human element of the film is about the intersection of their drives: Robot boxers.

In a venue where "boxing" has become simply one robot bashing and dismembering another, Charlie and Max unite in believing that real boxing, the boxing that humans learned, can overcome brute force.

It was an utterly improbable movie, but I didn't go to see a probable film, or premise. I went to see "Brawler loses, boxer wins."


Ah, the secret is to be revealed. One of my favorite perennial reads is China Boy, by Gus Lee (see sidebar). In that book, scrawny, beat-up Kai Ting is befriended by an ex-boxer, and learns to defend himself. In learning boxing, as opposed to just fighting, he elevates himself to a person of discipline and determination. "Brawler loses, boxer wins."

That book, along with this movie, is full of clichés. But although both the movie Real Steel and the book China Boy are loaded with one-liners and cliché scenarios, both carry the message that discipline and determination -- and heart -- are what you need to survive.

Probably I will see this improbably-told story again when it comes out on DVD.

P.S. It is nonetheless a fact that had any other actor been cast as Charlie than Hugh Jackman, I would have waited to see it on rental DVD. Hugh Jackman is worth seeing in the theater.

P.P.S. The robot, Atom, deserves a sequel.

P.P.P.S. Yes, it should have been "stunk" in the first line of this review. "Stank" simply fits better. Shut up.

Article © Bernie and Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2011-10-10
2 Reader Comments
06:05:13 AM
worst review ever
10:05:01 AM
Oh Sand I know this is ten years too late but I beg you to watch Rocky, the punk washed up fighter on the streets who was given a chance to take on the world heavyweight champion boxer in a promotional fight and just lost on points. Sound familiar. Not to mention the over emotional callout between father and son from across the canvas post match as seen between Rocky and Adrianne on various Rocky flicks. I liked this movie cause my kids got to see what our gen loved in Rocky.
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