In the year 2011 there were plenty of films to go around, both new and adapted. It was a rather big year. The Marvel Cinematic Universe hit the fast track with Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor. From the biggest film adaptation of that year, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, to reboots such as X-Men: First Class. Yes it was a rather big year, and yet 2011 harbored some potentially great films that either passed under the radar or were just born too early for their time. One of those films was Real Steel, a movie with the potential to bring a bit more originality to the movies.
Real Steel, directed by Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum, Cheaper by the Dozen) is set in the not so distant future were human boxers are replaced by Robots. It follows leading man, Hugh Jackman (X-Men, Prisoners) as he pits his robot against some of the toughest in the league. Accompanying him is his estranged son played by Dakota Goyo (Rise of the Guardians). Also starring in the film is Evangeline Lily (Ant-Man, White Chicks) and Kevin Durand (3:10 to Yuma, Winter’s Tale). The film has received mixed reviews all of which had something in common, stating that the story was not the best. The story of the film is lazily put together and it is a bit obvious that the direction is poor. It’s a rather cliché story: father finds out he has a son, he is forced to spend time within before he is taken away, the two bond and grow close, there is an issue with who keeps him, the two live together as a happy family. While the direction of the story did not go so well the direction and performances of the actors is one of the better aspects of this film.
The actors manage to work with the subpar story well and give a decent performance with what they were given. Hugh Jackman is the best performer out of everyone in the film, although this film is not one of his stronger roles. His character goes through the most development in the film and is actually one of the only likable characters. At first Jackman’s character only cares about the fighting and making as much money as he can to pay off his debts, and when his son is introduced in the film he initially wants nothing to do with him. But as the film progresses Jackman’s character grows closer with his son and they eventually form a close bond with one another as they both share a goal of having their robot beat the best on the league. Jackman manages to deliver a great performance even when it is a bit obvious that the script is either bouncing all over the place or a line does not make sense.
Jackman’s co-stars, however, are another story. Evangeline Lily is likable in the film but her role is rather small. She is regulated to the love interest to Jackman’s character and has little screen time. She still manages to deliver a good role on her part but the film actually would have played out the same if her character wasn’t in it ay all. She had no impact on the story other than the fact that she owns the gym were Jackman’s character trains. While Lily and Jackman’s roles are the best in the film, the other two did not really deliver the best they could. Dakota Goyo is a new face to film and his performance in this is below average to say the least. The film revolves around his and Jackman’s character, so some pressure is clearly present and that may have been the cause for his weak performance. Although he has good chemistry with Jackman and the two bounce off each other as if they really are father and son, Goyo certainly has room to improve.
Kevin Durand’s character is the weakest in this film, playing the role of the ‘antagonist’. I put that in quotations because Durand’s character really does not do much other than steal money from Jackman’s character and then disappears for more than half the film. His character is utterly useless and provides nothing to the overall plot of the film, if anything the only thing you get from his character is a strong urge to punch him as his performance is so bad that you can’t stand to look at or hear him when he has his few moments of screen time. The thing that saves and is the main selling point is the robots themselves.
This film has some of the best visual effects in film and some of the best sound design as well. It was obvious from the very start that seeing these boxer robots fighting it out in the ring was the main reason to see this film and there is actually a good chunk of film that has robot fight scenes. Unlike the Transformer series, in this film you actually get to see the robots plenty of times throughout the film and it is very pleasing to the eyes. The sound design of this film is also very well done. The sounds of metal scraping together and crunching is rather satisfying to hear as you see it unfold on the big screen. Truly one of the best aspects of this film.
You won’t get any morals out of it and you won’t really remember it after a day or two, but all in all Real Steel is a good popcorn flick to watch with the family. In my opinion the film missed out on what could have been the start to a new franchise. Unfortunately, with poor direction and sub-par acting this film was destined to be a simple one off. In the end I recommend this film to anyone who enjoyed the Transformer films and definitely those who like action films. It’s a good film to watch on those nights when you cannot find anything else to watch.