realsteelcoverGrade:  B+
Entire family:  No
2011, 127 min., Color
Rated PG-13 for some violence, intense action and brief language
Aspect ratio:  2.35:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD MA 7.1
Bonus features:  C
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD

This Rocky-with-robots tale stars Hugh Jackman as a former fighter who operates a robot boxer in a near-future world in which robots have taken over the ring. He’s a ne’er-do-well who stays one jump ahead of creditors, but suddenly has to look after his kid. The two of them bond over robot boxing when it turns out the kid (Dakota Goyo) takes after his father.

Producer Steven Spielberg convinced director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum) to build and use real robots to minimize the use of CGI, and the results are impressive—so stunning that the film earned an Oscar nomination for special effects. It’s a blockbuster film, but one with heart. Though Jackman’s character gets beaten up by a group of men at one point, that’s the only scene that pushes the rating. Otherwise, it’s all robot violence—no blood, just hydraulic fluid. And some language—hells and damns, mostly.

While it seems a lot more family-friendly than its rating, younger children may find certain scenes upsetting. At the center of the story is a difficult family structure, complete with dead-or-deadbeat parents and a custody struggle. There is also a scene of violence far beyond what’s seen in the boxing sequences, in which both father and child are in danger. Our 11 year old who’s sensitive to violence said she “liked almost everything about this movie” except for “the fighting with the real people.”

My guess is the PG-13 rating comes in large part from that scene, because the rest of it is a fun popcorn movie that will likely appeal to kids interested in robots/droids, video games, and the action genre. Picture a mash-up of boxing films, Fight Club, and demolition derbies—with some Star Wars and Transformers thrown in for good measure—and you’ll have a pretty good image of Real Steel.  

Like most sports films, Real Steel relies on a tried-and-true competition formula, but even when you think you know the outcome, this film still has you on the edge of your seat. It’s another underdog story, only this underdog is a has-been robot piloted by a has-been fighter and his cast-off son.

realsteelscreenStructurally, the film is much like Rocky, the way an underdog is trained, the way the fights build, and the way an unlikely contender gets a climactic championship fight. Jackman is charming as down-and-out Charlie Kenton, and he has decent chemistry with both young Goyo and a romantic interest (Evangeline Lilly, Lost) that has about as much to do in the film as Adrian did in Rocky. This film is all about cast-offs and losers redeeming themselves, and a father and son discovering each other—with action that will remind Baby Boomers of the old Rock’em Sock’em Robots. 

Average extras include “Making of Metal Valley” (14 min.), “Building the Bots” (5 min.), a blooper reel, and a standard commentary from director Levy. In addition, all the DVD features are included on the Blu-ray: “Countdown to the Fight: The Charlie Kenton Story” gives character background; technical advisor Sugar Ray Leonard talks about his fights and this film; and Second Screen allows you to fidget with the iSomething in your lap and receive complementary content while you watch the movie.