Just a note, my first viewing was not in theaters but at home.
Real Steel wasn’t bad, until it was. Let’s be honest here, when you go into a movie like Real Steel you aren’t expecting tour de force acting performances. You aren’t expecting multi-leveled characters, intricate and beautiful sets, or any sort of gripping drama. You are going into Real Steel because you want to see robots get dismembered, disassembled, and destroyed. Unfortunately there is far too little robot fighting within the movie, which while disappointing wasn’t actually as big a problem as one might think. Until we got to the end.
In one sentence here is the story of Real Steel. Hugh Jackman is a loser who doesn’t think before he acts and gets saddled with the son he abandoned eleven years before, who hate each other at the beginning (of course) but through fighting/controlling robots they start to bond, until Jackman blows it all to redeem himself by the end. Done and done. While you do expect more fighting than there actually was the movie had a nice rhythm to it where Jackman gradually stopped being a jerk and started bonding with his son (who was also an incredibly jerky kid) with robot training/fighting interspersed throughout (with multiple montages). This is a solid blockbuster movie, the actual character drama has a little more weight than your typical Summer junk (ahem TRANSFORMERS ahem).
However this entire thing gets ruined in the final scene, the epic robot title fight. Of course everyone knew it would end up with the impossible junk heap robot’s rise to the title fight to take on the undefeated Zeus (robot, not Ancient Greek God). That is ok. In fact it is ok that the robot continuously gets up and takes a beating. It is when they start pouring on the schlock, the absolute schmalz, where the movie goes from being mediocre to groan worthy. When both Jackman’s kid and longtime friend/love interest look at Jackman having the time of his life reliving his boxing career, and his kid and friend both randomly shed a tear because of it, is when the movie goes into the realm of somewhat ok entertainment to bad. It is when Jackman randomly starts yelling after his kid (who is probably about ten feet away from Jackman as they are both in the ring and the kid is getting interviewed), as if he and his kid had been separated for years and they are finally seeing each other for the first time and then the kid randomly pushes his way through the crowd of reporters (as if it was millions of people) and hug incredibly hard, this is when the movie loses it. Before the end scene the schmalziness was at a minimum, but when they tacked it all on at the end it made the movie cringe-worthy. In fact the final fight wasn’t even that great, it was basically one round of the robot getting its ass handed to him on a platter, then a crappy montage of the next few rounds, and then an anticlimactic and all too predictable final round. The final act was just a disappointment from head to toe.
If you are looking for some turn your brain off entertainment there are probably better movies that can do that. If you are looking for a typical blockbuster with a little more Real Steel might be your answer. But I implore you that once you get to the final fight you just turn the movie off because the surprise of how bad the movie wasn’t (even though it had all the trappings of a really crappy blockbuster-esque movie) will be completely crushed by the end of the final robot fighting sequence. And is that not more of a let down than if the movie had been complete schlock throughout?