On my personal list of 2011’s biggest surprises, Real Steel reaching a high level of profitability would rank fairly high. I thought, along with just about everyone else, that this movie was headed to “disaster” status, especially considering its $110 million budget. Instead, it stayed atop the domestic box office for two weeks and then managed to bring home a huge chunk of cash overseas. Even more surprising, Real Steel found some actual praise from noteworthy critics, earning enough good press that I had to switch move it from “Don’t See” to “Rent” on my upcoming movie spreadsheet (yes, I have an upcoming movie spreadsheet; stop laughing). When I finally did get a chance to check this movie out, I was actually somewhat excited about the prospect of taking it in, a sentiment I did not expect. In hindsight, I probably should have stuck to my original thoughts.
More than anything else, Real Steel is a prime example of how one misstep in the filmmaking process can bring the whole thing crashing down. In truth, most of the elements at play in this movie are good-enough for a family action flick, if not downright solid. The plot is shallow but also light and breezy, the type of narrative that certainly isn’t inspired but does a serviceable job of staying away from embarrassing or irritating. (For the record, I feel that’s all you can ask of a film like this.) Jackman is believable in his role and you get the sense that he enjoyed making this movie, a “plus” that should never be overlooked. The supporting actors around Jackman, including Anthony Mackie (The Adjustment Bureau) and Evangeline Lilly (Lost), do an admirable job of holding up their end of the bargain and even the marginal background actors are fine in most cases. And the action sequences are fun and lively, providing an illustration of how to use CGI effectively in this sort of movie. Real Steel doesn’t suck you in or create an investment the way a normal sports movie does but the action is rapid fire and enjoyable.