Steel – 2 out of 5
My familiarity with the DC character of John Henry Irons; the hero who idolized Superman and became Steel during the time after Supes was down with a temporary case of death brought on by Doomsday, is primitive at best and I honestly only really know him from the “Reign of Supermen” story arc in the early 90s. Well, that and the fact he was adapted into a feature film with Shaquille O’Neal. I never bothered to see this film when it came out in 1997 because it just didn't look good. However, that quickly changed when I heard that the podcast How Did This Get Made?—one of my personal favorites—announced that this would be one of their movies here in the month of December, I knew I had to hunt down a copy of this illusive feature and finally give it a chance.
|John Henry Irons could never make those free throws, just like in the comic books.|
John Henry Irons (Shaquille O’Neal) is a brilliant military weapons designer with a promising career ahead of him. Unfortunately, an conniving officer by the name of Nathaniel Burke (Judd Nelson) upped the power on the weapons on one test and an accident leaves Irons’ closest friend and colleague; Susan “Sparky” Sparks (Annabeth Gish), wheelchair bound. Burke is dismissed from the military and takes a job selling these weapons to street gangs while Irons resigns from the armed forces and tries to live a normal life back home. However, after witnessing his weapons being used in a bank robbery, Irons recruits Sparky and the local junkyard owner; Uncle Joe (Richard Roundtree), and together they create a metallic suit with non-lethal weapons and transforms Irons into the vigilante Steel. Now he’s taking the fight straight to Burke and is out to clean up the streets.
I guess I’ve been spoiled by the superior comic book movies lately—especially the epic work from Marvel Studios—and really forgot how bad comic book properties were treated back in the day—that is until Blade came along and changed everything. Prior to this, these adaptations where basically Saturday morning cartoons made into live-action treatments and all forms of storytelling, character and development was added barely as an afterthought and everything was treated with the mentality that the property is based on a comic book and people who read comics don’t care about substance and are just thought of as plain dumb. Steel is a prime example of everything that is wrong with these films and why so few of them that came out during this long era were even watchable.
|Greasy, unwashed blond business man was my favorite character.|
|Wow. Court-martialed for asking if Barry Manilow knows|
if you raid his wardrobe?!? That's harsh.
Right off the bat, the film starts with a joke about a man’s testicles and it pretty much sets the bar for the rest of the film (a nut joke is repeated later when Steel is fighting a street gang and they aim their assault rifles and shoot his crotch—so, that’s the level you’re playing with in this one). Never does the film really regain any of its dignity as it's scored with music that feels like it is the Demo feature on a cheap keyboard (or it’s a cheesy church choir number that shoe-horns in the phrase “You gotta steel yourself"), the performances are flat and super cheesy, Judd Nelson is pretty much just playing his character from The Breakfast Club all over again, it's filled with dialogue that makes you question the sanity of whoever wrote it (a character, without a hint of irony, calls someone a “son of a butt”) and the production wants to remind you constantly that there are bigger DC names out there as they name drop and reference Batman and Superman constantly—and, apparently, we’ve come a long way with Easter Eggs because none of these are subtle.
|Show no faith in your production's hero by constantly referring to other heroes.|
One of the obvious bad points in this film—beyond the terrible dialogue, flat performances and weak, weak, weak, weak, weak action—is the really bad acting of Shaquille O’Neal. I’m not going to sit here and argue that he’s great because he’s not. He’s completely unconvincing at every turn of the film. All the emotional lows he is supposed to hit come off flat and the highs just look silly. Then there’s the added humiliation of how silly he looks in that suit. However, this was one of his first acting roles with pretty much no background in acting other than probably faking injuries on the court. The guy was just a basketball player at the time and the performance he gives is about exactly as good as you would imagine an athlete was capable of. But, at the very least, he is clearly trying and I can’t fault the guy for that.
|Also, and there's no easy or kind way to say this but...he looks stupid as hell|
in this suit.
One thing this film did right is the character of Sparky. Loosely based on the DC character of Oracle, Sparky is an intelligent and dependent woman who ends up in a wheelchair. She is never portrayed as helpless but rather, in the closest sense this film gets to real heroics, comes off like a true hero who is able to kick as much ass as Steel—but when I say “kicking ass,” I mean that in a relative way because, I’ll say it again, the action is really, really weak in this film. Steel may not be a very good or legitimately entertaining film but it was doing something progressive at the time with Sparky.
|No joking here, I actually applaud Steel for this aspect of the film.|
Yes, Steel isn’t a very good film. It was pretty much no different from the endless parade of generically made comic book adaptations of the 90s and doesn’t look much different from some of the Made-for-TV backdoor pilots that have happened like the feature with The Hoff playing Nick Fury or even the Generation X feature that Fox had. However, I won’t go as far as to call the film bad or unwatchable because it does have an entertainment factor to it. It’s in its badness that makes it fun to watch. Yes, Steel is one of those “So Bad It’s Good” films. While not as ridiculous as something like Batman & Robin (yes, as bad as that one is, tell me you don’t have fun watching the insanity of it all) and not as genuinely engaging as anything in the MCU right now, the feature does offer up a little bit of fun and isn’t totally stupid.