1. It’s rated PG-13. For what ages of kids is the movie really appropriate?
Officially, the rating is “for some violence, intense action and brief language.” There are a few lines said by Max (Dakota Goyo), the 11-year-old boy around whom much of the movie is built, that most parents would rather not hear come out of their kids at that age. But they’re not so bad you’ll want to clap your hands over your kids’ ears, either.
The violence is another matter. The vast majority of the violence in Real Steel is inflicted on robots by other robots, so isn’t likely to upset anyone. There is, however, one scene that I recommend preparing your kids for ahead of time, in which Charlie (Hugh Jackman) is badly beaten up by several men and Max is, while only slightly injured, manhandled and restrained. It’s a pretty intense scene, though there’s only a little blood shown and most of the beating takes place in partial darkness and so lacks some detail that might have made it harder to watch. It’s the only scene in the film that’s likely to traumatize any kids over the age of six or so, and I think that most kids would handle it OK if they know it’s coming. Just so you’re aware, it happens right after Atom’s first World Robot Boxing league fight, against Twin Cities.
2. Will my kids like it?
That depends: Do your kids like robots and smart, occasionally sarcastic kid characters? I’d imagine most kids will enjoy seeing robots beat each other to pieces (sometimes literally), and the robots are really very well done. Dakota Goyo, who plays Max, does an excellent job making his character vulnerable, but still fun enough that most kids around his age will probably identify with him. The heartwarming father-son story will probably not interest most kids under 12 or so, but there’s enough cool robot action that I doubt it will affect their enjoyment negatively, either.
3. Will I like it?
I’ll be honest: I could have done with a little less of the heartwarming father-son story, or at least a less predictable arc for it — once the characters and the situation are established, anyone who’s seen more than 20 films in their lifetime could probably accurately map out the relationship’s entire plotline. That being said, I will admit to getting a little teary-eyed as Charlie finally makes the transition from father to dad and when watching Max watch his dad in the last scene. My teariness may have been partly due to the fact that my son is almost exactly the same age as Max, and that in physical appearance and attitude there are certain other similarities as well.
So yes, you’ll probably like it, though you probably won’t love it. The robot boxing pieces are very well executed: the transitions between the actual physical robot models they made for the film and the CGI versions that do the actual fighting are seamless. If you don’t mind having your emotions toyed with a little bit, you’ll probably find yourself getting into it. The romantic subplot between Charlie and Bailey (Evangeline Lilly) is even more predictable than the father-son plot and can be pretty much ignored.
4. This role is kind of a departure for Hugh Jackman. How does he do in it?
He handles the role well, I thought. Jackman is the dad of two kids, so even though this is the first time he’s played a father on screen he does so believably. He even manages to sell the character of Charlie in the early part of the film, where he wants nothing to do with his son (with whom he’s had no contact whatsoever) and is even willing to sell his parental rights to the boy’s aunt and uncle. It would have been easy for Charlie to become completely unlikable in those scenes, but he manages to avoid that — remarkably, really.
5. When’s the best time for a bathroom break?
The movie clocks in at just over two hours, so this is a pretty reasonable concern. Honestly, my recommendation would be to try to time a break to coincide with the intense scene I mentioned in #1, right after Atom’s fight with Twin Cities. It’s enough to know that Charlie gets beaten up badly and becomes very concerned for Max’s safety as a result, without having to actually see it happen. Also, any scene between Charlie and Bailey is a good time to go, as their (pretty chaste) romance is entirely incidental, so missing a scene or two of it won’t affect anyone’s enjoyment of the film.
6. Is it worth paying more for IMAX? How about 3D?
I don’t think so. I saw it on a regular screen, and it was perfectly adequate to the task. The special effects are good, but not beautiful (not that they’re intended to be), so I don’t see a lot of point in seeing them blown up to a bigger size. Thankfully, and refreshingly, there is no 3D version of the film available!
7. Do I have to sit through the credits for a bonus scene at the end?
No, nor is there anything terribly interesting to watch while the end credits roll. I was a bit surprised, incidentally, that Real Steel actually has opening credits, with a song playing over them and everything, while we watch Charlie drive his truck down empty roads. Does it seem odd to anyone else that it’s now unusual for a movie to have opening credits, when it used to be unheard of for them not to?
8. How loud is it?
It’s pretty loud — there’s a lot of crowd noise and, oh yeah, big steel robots punching each other. If you or your kids are sensitive to really loud sounds, I recommend bringing earplugs just in case. A lot will depend on how the particular theater you go to adjusts their sound system, so I can’t say for sure you’ll need them, but if it’s as loud as it was for the preview screening I saw, you probably will.
9. Will my kids want the toys based on the movie?
The action figures based on the robots are pretty cool, so if they’re at at all into robots (and I’d guess most geek kids are), they will probably want them. If they’re anything like my kids, they’ll probably want them whether or not they actually see the movie, though, so I don’t advise figuring that into a decision whether or not to see it.
10. Will my kids and/or I want to see it again?
It’s a good, if not great, film, so you probably will — though I doubt you’ll want to buy the Blu-ray the moment it hits the shelves, either. Your kids will probably want to see it again, though, as the robot boxing scenes are pretty cool to watch.
Note: If you haven’t yet, please read my previous coverage of Real Steel.