‘Real Steel’ Review

Published 4 years ago by

Real Steel Hugh Jackman Atom Review Real Steel Review

Screen Rant’s Ben Kendrick reviews Real Steel

The sheer mention of giant robots fighting to the death is likely to remind moviegoers of Michael Bay’s Transformers films – but Real Steel is definitely a different breed of metal-on-metal action. Based on Richard Matheson’s 1956 short story “Steel,” Real Steel isn’t an action adventure about giant war robots, it’s a much more intimate story about an estranged father and son – as well as their not-so-giant boxing robot.

Director Shawn Levy is expecting big things from his near-future portrayal of a world where human boxing has bowed out in favor of the WRB (World Robot Boxing) League – as well as the less official, but equally brutal, shady world of underground robot boxing.

But is Real Steel the real deal when it comes to fun Fall flicks?

Fortunately, the answers is yes. Despite a number of problems that will probably keep it from being a true box office champion (such as an overlong runtime), Real Steel delivers some exciting action in the ring – as well as competent (albeit self-indulgent and thin) outside-the-ring human drama. Its success at the box office might be somewhat hampered by a PG-13 rating, which could have probably been shaved down to PG, given that the film is mostly a “family-friendly” endeavor that only flirts with dark story moments. However, despite earning the film a higher rating, this waffling between hammy kid-movie moments and a few brutal human-on-human fights will only cause some audience members to roll their eyes on occasion and isn’t likely to detract from any enjoyment the film has to offer – especially given the tongue-in-cheek premise and execution of the plot.

Real Steel follows down-on-his-luck robot boxing manager, Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) who drifts from place to place and fight to fight, racking up gambling debts and enemies, until he is notified that the mother of his estranged son, Max (Dakota Goyo) has died – leaving the boy orphaned. Max’s aunt (as well as her fiancé’) vies for custody, and desperate for money, Charlie agrees to hand over uncontested custodial rights to the boy for $100,000. However, the fiancé’ does not want to cancel an expensive European vacation the couple has planned for the summer, and forces Charlie to babysit Max in the interim as part of the deal. Charlie reluctantly agrees and, over the course of their time together, the pair form a tight relationship as they pit a junky sparring bot against some of the biggest heavy-hitters in the WRB.

Real Steel Hugh Jackman Dakota Goyo Real Steel Review

Noisy Boy, Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, and Optimus Prime (?) in 'Real Steel'

Central to the success of Real Steel is the father and son relationship depicted by Jackman and Goyo. As mentioned, there are some self-indulgent moments and the progression is probably going to be pretty predictable for anyone who has ever seen an estranged father/son relationship in a film before, but Real Steel deserves a lot of credit for not gumming up the plot with too much melodrama. In the hands of a different writer or director, the film might not have been able to show the same amount of restraint – and could have become frustrating and stagy instead of exciting. The relationship is worked into the story in a competent way – it’s rarely manipulative and both parties are instrumental in moving the story forward, not just reacting to external events. It doesn’t hurt that Jackman and Goyo, unlike many onscreen father/son combos, actually have believable chemistry – which helps elevate the tension and/or humor in several key scenes.

No doubt one of the biggest draws of the film will be the action set pieces that feature robot-vs-robot action. For the most part these sequences live up to expectation with some very believable CGI work as well as an enjoyable mix of robots that each feature different fighting styles. While not every bot is as interesting as some of the featured fighters, each of the combatants offers a different insight into the world of Real Steel. Whether competing in underground fighting arenas, backyard brawls, or the glitz and glamor of an official WRB ring, it’s clear that Levy wanted the robots to flesh out this near-future world – not just beat each other into nuts and bolts.

Unfortunately, while the audience is offered glimpses into the various competitive levels of robot boxing, anyone hoping for a deeper mythology or robust explanation of this fictional world will probably be left somewhat underwhelmed. Levy is planning a sequel that will no doubt dig deeper, but the world-building in Real Steel is ultimately pretty thin – despite some cool scene-to-scene glimpses. At times, the overarching narrative seems to hint at an inter-connected origin for Kenton’s main bot, Atom, but nothing comes of the veiled allusions in the current storyline.

Real Steel Noisy Boy and Midas Real Steel Review

Noisy Boy and Midas battle in the ring

This lack of cohesion in the current story, coupled with an obvious focus on setting up a sequel, is ultimately frustrating – especially given the film’s relatively simple human dramatic threads and overlong 127 minute run time. It might be hard to imagine that a film about CGI robots duking it out in a boxing ring could be become stale after awhile, but the closing act of Real Steel gets weighed down in too much sequel setup and not enough payoff for the existing narrative threads.

While the lack of information does make for compelling Real Steel 2 potential, there’s no doubt the current narrative gets short-shrift and some of the established plot lines could’ve been more fully realized in this film. It isn’t a case of unreasonable expectations or wishing Levy had gone deeper into unexplored mythology, it’s a matter of wanting the film to address existing story threads, instead of intentionally withholding, just to have a starting point for a sequel.

Sequel or no sequel, Real Steel offers plenty of fun and engaging moments – of both the human character drama and giant CGI robot battle variety. Reactions to the movie will be mixed: some filmgoers may walk away feeling cheated or underwhelmed by the closing minutes of the film, while others may be excited to see what comes next for the Kentons and their robot fighter, Atom. That said, even though it gets knocked down once in awhile, Real Steel still delivers plenty of exciting punches.

If you’ve already seen the film and want to talk about various plot details without ruining them for others, head over to our Real Steel spoilers discussion.

If you’re still on the fence about Real Steel, check out the trailer below:


[poll id="198"]


Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick - and let us know what you thought of the film below:

Real Steel is now in theaters.

Our Rating:

3.5 out of 5
(Very Good)

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  1. I think your review hit it spot on. It wasn’t a perfect movie by any means far from but it was very cool and fun to watch. Watching atom gave me the same warm hearted feeling I get when watching the iron giant, I had a great time at this movie

    • Agree! Good movie for dad’s and son’s. Pretty clean actually.

  2. You had me at the one point I didn’t know before.
    It’s a Richard Matheson story.

    • Ditto! That will be my one and only reason for seeing it.
      (That and Jackman’s over-the-top acting of course.)

  3. Good review Ben.

    It’s still a month or two before ‘Real Steel’ is released in South-Africa, but I’ll probably go see it…

    • Hopefully we’ll still be celebrating having won the World Cup a couple of weeks before.

  4. The top 3 highest grossing movies “OF ALL TIME” are BOTH – OVER LONG AND PG-13.

    This is my argument.

    • Eddie (and houghboy) – at no point did I make the argument that a long (or PG-13) movie can’t be successful. I was merely pointing out that the movie is overlong given the material covered in the film. As a result, it drags – and that lack of cohesion could affect box office numbers in week 2, 3, etc when the film’s momentum will be determined by word of mouth as well as reviews.

      Additionally, the PG-13 rating will likely turn off some potential parents who might have initially been drawn to what appears to be a kid-friendly movie concept.

      These aren’t blanket statements – they are filmmaker choices that, given what ultimately is presented on-screen, could hold some people back from seeing the movie.

      It boils down to this: all three of the overlong/PG-13 successes mentioned were also well thought-out experiences that made use of their long run-times and PG-13 rating. Real Steel does not – as a result, these filmmaker choices will prevent the film from being #4 on the aforementioned list.

      With all due respect, I too understand the point being brought up here – but instead of “calling the reviewer out fair and square” couldn’t we have all started on a more civil foot to discuss the point?

      • My son (age 6) would probably love this movie, but I hesitate to let him watch it due to the rating.

        Hugh Jackman was on one of the talk shows the other day, and said that his 6-year-old loved it, so now I’m thinking it might be OK. I’ll probably watch it myself first, though.

        • DJKuulA – There are a few scenes that could be kind of intense for a 6 year old (Jackman gets beat-up a couple times) but most of the violence is robot against robot. It’ll definitely depend on where you set the bar for what you’re comfortable with your son seeing.

          • Thanks, Ben. We just finished the original Star Wars trilogy today, and I’m thinking my kid could probably handle this one. :)

            BTW, I think the latest revision of RotJ might be superior to the original cut. Now please excuse me while I go kill myself. . .

      • I disagree that it was overlong. Personally I felt the movie was so good that for me the time just flew. The only thing I would have changed was the fact that the fight against Zeus was Rocky vs. Apollo from Rocky all over again where the underdog almost knocks out the champ but loses by decision. Still a great movie and I loved how they built up the evolving relationship between Charlie and Max.

        • A spoiler warning there would have worked great. I’ve already seen it but I’m sure many here haven’t.

  5. #1: AVATAR . PG-13 Running time: 2 hrs. 40 minutes.
    #2: TITANIC . PG-13 Running time: 3 hrs. 14 minutes.
    #3: Dark Knight. PG-13 Running time: 2 hrs. 30 minutes.

    • #4: Transformers: Datk of the Moon . PG-13 Running Time: 2hrs. 35 minutes.

  6. Despite a number of problems that will probably keep it from being a true box office champion (such as an overlong runtime), Real Steel delivers some exciting action in the ring – as well as competent (albeit self-indulgent and thin) outside-the-ring human drama. Its success at the box office might be somewhat hampered by a PG-13 rating

    • Eddie,

      “This lack of cohesion in the current story, coupled with an obvious focus on setting up a sequel, is ultimately frustrating – especially given the film’s relatively simple human dramatic threads and overlong 127 minute run time. It might be hard to imagine that a film about CGI robots duking it out in a boxing ring could be become stale after awhile, but the closing act of Real Steel gets weighed down in too much sequel setup and not enough payoff for the existing narrative threads.”

      The point is more that it feels overly long.

      BTW, have you actually seen the film? Or are you just being contrarian because, you know, it’s the internet.


      • You did state ‘runtime’. The rating speaks for itself. I think his argument deserves a little more humility. Wrong is wrong.

        • houghboy,

          I trust my reviewers. If he said that it’s for good reason. I have not personally seen the film yet, but my impression is that he doesn’t believe the film will be as successful as it could be because it would be better if it was “tighter” and not as long. Sometimes a 90 minute movie can feel long and sometimes a 2 1/2 movie just zips by because it’s so engaging.


          • You’re missing the point, the comments Eddie makes are very astute.
            If the reviewer explained that despite the same runtime as some of the most successful* movies of all time, it still drags, then it would better illustrate his point.
            On paper it appears that Real Steel has been made according to a recipe for success, rating, runtime etc. But the reviewer suggests these factors put it at risk.
            I fully understand his critique, but he was called out by Eddie fair and square.
            I’m only yankin your chain, but you do have a habit on here of wild unsupported speculation/rumour, and on the occasion that you turn out to have guessed correctly, exclaiming ‘called it’.
            It’d be nice to see some qualified statements here and there. All it took was ‘good point, well made’.
            *financially-yes. Artistically-in the case of The Dark Knight, yes.

            • Houghboy,

              If our style doesn’t suit you, there are hundreds of other movie news sites out there you can read.



  7. I’m really looking forward to seeing this one.
    I had a lot of fun playing Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots when I was a kid.
    I can’t wait to see ‘ real ‘ ( I know its a movie , I know its a movie ) robots boxing.

  8. Jackman seems incapable of turning out a bad performance, I’ll check it out, thanks for the review.

  9. I will probably see this eventually,But, I am bothered by the idea that it sets up a sequel.
    I dont think they should “Save ” for a sequel.
    And let me clear ,I read there were holding back story points for a sequel about two weeks ago.
    And that is when my interest in the project waned.
    I will see it down the road.

  10. This will be rental. I thought it sounded corny when I first heard about it and I still do.

  11. For my money I would much rather a film be a tad too long, than too rushed. I find the latter a more common problem in Hollywood today, than the former. The final reel of this summer’s Thor is a case in point: it was cramped and hectic. Another five or ten minutes devoted to the two, final battle sequences potentilaly could have transformed it from the solid film that it was to a great one. I felt similarly about Taken — an engaging action flick, to be sure; but one that needed another fifteen to twenty minutes of plot development. Things simply unfolded too easily and hastily, too by the numbers (for Liam Neeson’s character). It detracted from my enjoyment of the film significantly. If I am going to pay $10.00 for a movie, please give me more than necessary rather than less, any day.

  12. Laylom – I’ll just reiterate what Vic mentioned earlier:


    If our style doesn’t suit you, there are hundreds of other movie news sites out there you can read.



  13. When I saw the trailer for Real Steel a few months ago, I blew it off a old Twilight Zone ripoff. But, I was pleasantly surprised by it as a whole. A few hours of escapism, decent work of CGI, and fun for any age.

  14. It was a good family friendly film. It was well worth the money to get away for a couple of hours. I do agree that it was missing some plot elements but it was still a good flick.

    Steve summed up my thoughts about run time as well. The longer the film the better as long as it’s entertaining in whatever scheme of themes.

  15. Watched this movie over the weekend, great film and much better than the trailers make it seem. Sure it is formula but it works with the story and the actors they picked for the roles.

    NOTE: If anyone wants to see an actor that could have made the role of Anikin Skywalker his and brought the true Darth Vader to life as a child, Dakota Goyo is that person. Now before anyone says it I know he is too young now and that no one could overcome Lucas’s bad writing and directing but it would have made a big difference in my opinion.

  16. 30 responses and no one has mentioned ‘over the top’ which surely sets the bar for all estranged father/son redemption flicks! i love that movie x

  17. I originally went to this movie with apprehension and at first wondered if I had come into the wrong show until I saw Hugh Jackman at the wheel of his truck. I was expecting it to be far into the future but soon found it was in a time similar to ours, the not to distant future. It’s a relatable world with characters not much different to us. Real Steel was a pleasant surprise and had a Disney flavour, it’s really worth seeing. It has a great story line, interesting characters and great robot fighting scenes. I actually felt for the robots? They were well-done and they looked so real and you would hardly tell that it was all done by computers.
    This movie is a heart felt father son story between and ex boxer Hugh Jackman and his son Dakota Goyo. I wouldn’t be surprised is there is a sequel and I’d definetly go alone and see it. I went with 2 young boys 10 and 12 and they thoroughly enjoyed it.

  18. I’m not even sure why, but if you replace Hugh Jackman with Robert Downey Jr. and I think this movie goes from good to damn good pretty quickly. Jackman’s character is witty, but he just doesn’t pull it off with the swagger the character needs.

    That said, its a good film. The special effects, which this film relies heavily upon are top notch. They could have probably trimmed some fat, but they didn’t and it is what it is.

    I felt like I got value out of my eight-dollars spent, and at the end of the day that is what really matters. I still feel having Downey, Jr. in this film would’ve made it much better–but frankly, I can’t tell you exactly why.

  19. gah what a crappy review! Reminds me of a video game review where the writer said you would enjoy the game because the game developer decided to stimulate the player by flashing multicolored goo on the screen. Jesus! It’s so frustrating to see crap like this being published

    • Wow, I’m sorry Ben, I was drunk when I wrote this and I don’t know what I was trying to say. The review is far from crappy.

  20. @ Ben:

    can you tell me what you felt all the time spent setting up for a sequel was? I Saw Real Steel last night and I didnt see anything that was setting up for a sequel.

  21. I went to see the movie twice, and can’t wait for the DVD. I don’t think the movie is too long, the writing – it’s very sharp and crisp. The acting is is Triple A – by everyone. From Jackman, to Goyo, to everyone else. The music is awesome. The lightning, surrounding. Eye is the window to the soul I guess :-)

    I voted it 5 Star. I think Real Steel is just like Johnny Cash rendition of Hurt, and Jimi Hendrix rendition of All Along The Watchtower. Original it isn’t, but way way way more awesome than the source material it take from.

  22. I think it’s a serious sin not to include Dakota Goyo name in the trailer, though.