DVDizzy.com | DVD and Blu-ray Reviews | New and Upcoming DVD & Blu-ray Schedule | Upcoming Cover Art | Search This Site

Real Steel: Blu-ray + DVD Review

Real Steel (2011) movie poster Real Steel

Theatrical Release: October 7, 2011 / Running Time: 127 Minutes / Rating: PG-13 / Songs List

Director: Craig Gillespie / Writers: John Gatins (screenplay); Dan Gilroy, Jeremy Leven (story); Richard Matheson (short story Steel)

Cast: Hugh Jackman (Charlie Kenton), Dakota Goyo (Max Kenton), Evangeline Lilly (Bailey Tallet), Anthony Mackie (Finn), Kevin Durand (Ricky), Hope Davis (Aunt Debra), James Rebhorn (Marvin), Karl Yune (Tak Mashido), Olga Fonda (Farra Lemkova), John Gatins (Ethan/Kingpin)

Buy Real Steel from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD • Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy • DVD • Instant Video

Judging by its trailer, the upcoming Battleship has a flimsier claim to the title of that Milton Bradley board game than Real Steel does to Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots. After all, while naval warfare was a normal occurrence for quite a while, robot boxing is strictly the domain of fantasy. This 2011 movie claims it is based in part on Steel, a short story by I Am Legend and What Dreams May Come author Richard Matheson first published in 1956,
eight years before Marx Toys began manufacturing their plastic boxing rings. The story, which Matheson adapted for a Season 5 episode of "The Twilight Zone", envisions a near future where robots box.

In Real Steel, that future is the year 2020 and robot boxing is one of the most popular sports around. But it's an unpredictable line of work and one that has left former human boxer Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) quite dire financially. He lives in the truck he uses to transport his robotic fighter Ambush to unsanctioned and often shady matches. Things have gotten so bad for Charlie that he's ready to charge a group of young girls $5 to take a photo of his run-down bot. He owes dozens of thousands of dollars to multiple people and he hasn't paid rent in months to the gym now owned by his late coach's daughter ("Lost"'s Evangeline Lilly), an obvious love interest.

Charlie's pressures are eased when he gets the news that an ex-girlfriend he broke up with over a decade ago has passed away. He is all ready to sign away the custody rights to Max (Dakota Goyo, who bears quite a resemblance to a young Jake Lloyd), their 11-year-old son whose life he has stayed out of. But, in an arrangement that makes no sense to anyone, Charlie agrees to accept $100,000 to take care of Max for the summer while the boy's wealthy future guardians (Hope Davis and James Rebhorn) enjoy Italy. Charlie quickly blows almost all of his fees on a globe-trotting, high-tech new boxer, who is soon and irreparably dismantled.

In the not so distant future, boxing consists of humans (Hugh Jackman) operating remote-controlled robots. Talk about a win-win situation: Max Kenton (Dakota Goyo) gets to know his father and co-manage a robot boxer.

Father and son predictably bond over their unlikely next acquisition, junkyard castoff Atom, whom Max credits with saving his life in a close call. Being a boxing movie, Real Steel takes the familiar rags-to-riches path, turning Atom into a fan favorite, co-managed by Charlie and Max. The underdog improbably rises from anything-goes underground battles to the glitzy professional league, where he turns heads and even secures a match with richly engineered reigning world champion Zeus.

The robots of Real Steel are like the ones of Transformers, only they're a lot closer to human dimensions, they don't transform into anything, and they're not actually alive. They are operated by complex computerized control pads, voice commands, and some can even mimic human movement more precisely than Wii Sports. If you suspect that could come into play in the big climactic match, you are right. In fact, you can foresee most of what transgresses here: the bonding, rebound, and redemption.

Shawn Levy is not a director who shatters expectations; he mostly meets them, sometimes to winning effect (the two Night at the Museum movies) and almost always to box office success (Date Night, Cheaper by the Dozen). His background is in family fare and despite its PG-13 rating that is what Real Steel first and foremost is. Levy seems much more interested in the father-son angle than in all the clanging metal, not a bad thing considering the passionate fandom is as invented as the sport itself is dumb. Seriously, robots boxing? I don't like when people rag on the film industry, but it's tough to defend its imagination when this idea gets approved with a $110 million budget and Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis as producers.

Two-headed Twin Cities makes for a formidable opponent in Nokia-sponsored robot boxing. Broke, deadbeat father Charlie Kenton deserves Bailey (Evangeline Lilly), a supporting woman ten years his junior, in his corner.

Though it practically qualifies as an original film, taking little from Matheson's text and teleplay (including virtually nothing in the way of social commentary), Real Steel is a tired and familiar production, hitting all the beats to tug at your heart strings but without real conviction or personality. It feels like a movie written to make divorced or single fathers and their sons feel better about themselves for two hours. But that won't be the only demographic to approve of the film and its themes of teamwork and perseverance.
At the moment, it's got a 7.3 IMDb user rating, an A- Yahoo! user rating, and 80% Rotten Tomatoes audience approval. It's fair to call this a crowd-pleaser, but I found it incredibly easy to dislike. And my fellow critics, the toughest judges of artistic merit, were evenly mixed with average ratings placing it smack in the middle of mediocrity.

The movie's box office performance was somewhat mediocre as well, considering the production and marketing costs, which the $85 million domestic gross failed to recoup, while still placing the film above all but three movies released in the easygoing two months comprising cinema's "fall" season. Real Steel did much better in foreign markets, grossing over $210 million, over 70% of its worldwide business, there. That is enough to chalk this up as a commercial win for The Walt Disney Company, who distributed this and four other DreamWorks Pictures under their Touchstone banner in 2011 per a multi-year deal to healthy profits on all but one (Fright Night) and two Best Picture nominations. Real Steel even picked up an unexpected Oscar nomination for Visual Effects, although it has very little chance of winning. The numbers render the hopefully unfounded recent rumblings of Disney mulling a potential Touchstone sale nothing short of bizarre, when it was Disney's own in-house productions (like Winnie the Pooh, Prom, and, above all else, Zemeckis' Mars Needs Moms) that more frequently floundered at the box office.

Disney and DreamWorks brought Real Steel to DVD, Blu-ray + DVD, and Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy last week. We review the middle of those three options here.

Watch Charlie teach Atom to box in this Real Steel clip:

Real Steel (2011): Blu-ray + DVD combo cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 7.1 DTS-HD MA (English), DTS-HD HR (French); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French); Both: Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish), Dolby Surround 2.0 (DVS)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: January 24, 2012 / Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snaps in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP), Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy ($44.99 SRP), and on Amazon Instant Video


As you would expect of a film as new and expensive, Real Steel looks just about perfect on Blu-ray Disc. No matter how close you get to your television, the 2.40:1 transfer remains sharp, immaculate, vibrant, and detailed. It should be noted and praised that the film uses real animatronic robots as often as it can, something you sense and sort of appreciate, at least as much as any facet of the production design. The 7.1 DTS-HD master audio is loud, whether delivering stadium atmosphere and metal-on-metal action or just blaring a song for the obligatory montage. There's more sound and atmosphere to admire than in most films, but the mix isn't especially memorable.

Identical to the one sold on its own, the DVD definitely doesn't deliver the polish and detail of its hi-def counterpart, but its clean picture and lively sound should still be enough to satisfy the average viewer.

Director Shawn Levy is most excited for you to join him on a Second Screen adventure. While the movie plays, Second Screen treats you to storyboards and a whole lot more. This proof of concept test is something you can only access with a "Flick to Screen" at the end of Second Screen.


Real Steel has received a pretty full slate of bonus features on Blu-ray. They begin with a Second Screen experience, which allows you to use a computer or iPad to look at interactive content timed to movie playback. The feature's subtitle, "Ringside with Director Shawn Levy", comes into play in that Levy's feature audio commentary plays here in between video detours on topics like sound design and dancing.
Watch a Real Steel bonus feature clip:
Levy is his usual spirited self, excitedly pointing out musical selections and instances where they avoided going digital, repeatedly referring you to Second Screen, and occasionally showing up in picture-in-picture. He really sweats the details, recalling creative input and noticing things like sound design and reshoots. Though I'm not crazy about the movie, his passion is refreshing and rare.

I had some difficulty getting my computer to sync with my player. When it finally worked, it treated me to production photos, concept art, prop graphics, previsualizations, trivia, posters, storyboards, script excerpts, ground plans, and so on. It fell out of sync from time to time, but that was easily corrected, not that the alignment is exceedingly important. There's a running count on screen allowing you to catch up manually, should you not be synced automatically and able to resync. The Second Screen concludes with seven additional short featurettes which you can "Flick to Screen" to watch on your television. Is there any reason, aside from forcing you to explore this technology, that these couldn't just be offered from a menu as well?

It's unfortunate that you can't just watch the movie with the audio commentary on Blu-ray and that you also can't view the detours without dealing with playback of the film. Second Screen is clearly more sensorily engaging than a plain commentary, but it's a bit overwhelming and demanding. I doubt many will have the patience to endure the whole movie in this way.

Kevin Durand remains in character as villainous Texan Ricky in the mockumentary "Countdown to the Fight: The Charlie Kenton Story." Real animatronic robots in a variety of shapes and colors were built to be like Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park."

"Countdown to the Fight: The Charlie Kenton Story" (13:51) is a boxing mockumentary on the protagonist of Real Steel. It is well-done, with the type of human drama that pre-game sports profiles are known for, and features Jackman and a number of supporting cast members in character. It's clever promotion that can function as a fitting prologue to the film.

"The Making of Metal Valley" (14:14) takes us behind the scenes of the rainy junkyard sequence. It pays attention to things often taken for granted, like rain machines, a stuntwoman who doubles for child actors, and an editing bay discovery of the need for a pick-up shot. That amount of candor gives us a real sense of filmmaking and keeps this interesting.

"Building the Bots" (5:38) covers the practical effects, specifically the production's creation of full-scale animatronic robots at the suggestion of Steven Spielberg.

"Sugar Ray Leonard: Cornerman's Champ" (6:19) gives us a look at the boxer's work training Jackman and advising the fight choreographers. A little something for the boxing fans.

This father/son meal is among the numerous moments comprising the deleted storyline. On Blu-ray and DVD, the lightly animated Real Steel main menu kindly offers something different from the usual montage.

A deleted & extended scenes section contains just one listing of each, but they still add up to 17 minutes and 49 seconds with enthusiastic Shawn Levy introductions. He explains that the comedic opening was trimmed to strike the right tone. The deletion is an entire cut 12-minute storyline, featuring more Hope Davis, and fleshing out what's at stake in Charlie's summer custody.
Clearly, the movie is already plenty long at 127 minutes, but it's nice to get this footage preserved here and a notion that Max's mother meant anything to anyone.

The obligatory bloopers reel (2:36) is relatively unfunny, consisting of short rifts and goofs out of context. Its one saving grace is a Wolverine joke.

Of all these bonus features, the DVD only offers "Making of Metal Valley", "Building the Bots", the bloopers, and, a straightforward Levy audio commentary without the detours and interactivity.

Both discs open with a recognition-delaying trailer for The Avengers and ones for War Horse and The Help. Oddly, the menu's Sneak Peeks listing doesn't repeat these, only playing a random 30-second ad for ABC's "Castle."

The menu gives us a sappily-scored animated shot of Atom looking into a mirror.

The side-snapped Blu-ray case is topped by an embossed cardboard slipcover that gives the illusion of rust around Disney's signature combo pack blue border. Inside, the gray DVD is covered by three inserts: a dated booklet promoting Touchstone Blu-rays, instructions for enjoying Second Screen, and an ad for "official lubricants of World Robot Boxing" Royal Purple.



Real Steel is a technically competent but flimsy, emotionally manipulative father-son drama. Though the story it tells is a human one, it can't overcome that stupid, clunky robot boxing premise at its core. And yet, it is a film that many seem to like, so don't let my disapproval stand in your way if it looks of interest to you.

The Blu-ray combo pack delivers a knockout feature presentation and more extras than anyone is likely to want. It'd be foolish to complain about too many bonus features, but the Second Screen did make writing this review more exhausting and less joyful than usual. Fortunately, as just a viewer, you can easily choose to only take in what you'd like and much of the supplemental material is quite good.

Buy Real Steel from Amazon: Blu-ray + DVD / DVD / Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy / Instant Video

Buy from Amazon.com

Related Reviews:
Hugh Jackman: Australia • The Prestige | Evangeline Lilly: Lost: The Complete First Season
2011 VFX Oscar Nominees: Rise of the Planet of the Apes • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 • Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Directed by Shawn Levy: Night at the Museum • Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian • Date Night
Fall 2011 Movies: Dolphin Tale • Moneyball • Contagion • Paranormal Activity 3 • Shark Night
Crazy, Stupid, Love. • I Am Number Four • Secretariat • Rocky • Invincible • The Fighter
Robots: Transformers • WALL•E • The Black Hole • Surrogates • Iron Man

Real Steel Songs List: Alexi Murdoch - "All My Days", Limp Bizkit - "Why Try", Rival Sons - "Torture", Styles of Beyond - "Nine Thou", Carrie Harry and Dirty Dick - "Fairground Carousel", Eminem - "'Till I Collapse", Bad Meets Evil - "Fastlane", Tom Morello - "The Midas Touch", The Crystal Method - "Busy Child", The Crystal Method - "Make Some Noise", 50 Cent - "The Enforcer", Prodigy & Tom Morello - "One Man Army", Brian Tarquin - "The Shaft", Foo Fighters - "Miss the Misery", The Crystal Method - "Undefeated", Timbaland (feat. Veronica) - "Give It a Go", Beastie Boys - "Here's a Little Something to Ya"

Buy Real Steel: Music from the Motion Picture from Amazon.com: CD • MP3 Download

Buy Real Steel: Original Motion Picture Score by Danny Elfman from Amazon.com: CD • MP3 Download

DVDizzy.com | DVD and Blu-ray Reviews | New and Upcoming DVD & Blu-ray Schedule | Upcoming Cover Art | Search This Site

Search This Site:

DVDizzy.com Top Stories:

Reviewed February 1, 2012.

Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2011 Touchstone Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures, Reliance Entertainment, 21 Laps, Montford Murphy Productions,
and 2012 Buena Vista Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.