Classic Film Review: Steel (1997)

Marvel vs. DC:

Steel, 1997

Directed by: Kenneth Johnson

Starring: Shaquille O’Neal, Annabeth Gish, Richard Roundtree, Judd Nelson


Quite timely having this film with Black Panther getting all the attention for being a film about a black superhero. Blade may have given Marvel one already (which some fans seem to have forgotten about), but Blade was a year after DC gave us our first black superhero. Like they did with the first female superhero. It’s such a shame they do it so poorly that they don’t get any credit for pioneering this change that seems so amazing over twenty years later.

After leaving the army due to their creation of newer, scarier weaponry (which backfires on a test run and permanently paralyses a friend), John Henry Irons/Steel (Shaquille O’Neal) soon finds himself caught up in a crusade to stop the weapons which have fallen into the hands of villains. Donning a completely steel costume, with his hammer in tow, he becomes Steel and begins appearing wherever trouble is, but is constantly faced with newer, more powerful weapons on the villain’s team and the police, who, despite living in a world where Superman and Batman exist (and presumably Supergirl as her film crossed over with Superman’s), see a man in a costume fighting a gang and instantly pinpoint him as a villain, too.

This is a film led by Shaquille O’Neal . . . and while he wasn’t as terrible as I feared going in, it still wasn’t a fantastic performances. Everyone is poor-fine, with nobody particularly standing out as really good or really bad. But it certainly isn’t a strong leading performance. They even have him regularly playing basketball and having him fail a shot, leading to a moment where he has to make the shot, all for laughs as the audience knows who he is. It’s poor and lazy and cheap. It also doesn’t spend too long on logical things, like how a newly-paralysed woman can lift herself off the floor in a very, very short space of time and who doesn’t seem to struggle what-so-ever, emotionally or physically, with this new lifestyle change. Nor does it care to explain where their finances come from or their ability to make an extremely clever base with stupidly powerful weapons (his hammer-thing can do all sorts) as their back-story is just that they were in the army and he now works for a steel company. Nor does it care to explain why they keep referring to him as the man of steel (when Superman exists here) and he even has a tattoo with it written on it and the Superman symbol, albeit altered slightly, but it never uses his comic book back-story, where he was a stand-in for Superman. It’s a very weird few things to have dotted around the film, as without prior comic book knowledge, which I only found out moments before watching the film as I didn’t know the character, it just comes across as odd for him to have a Superman tattoo (it’s only shown briefly and can easily be mistaken) and using his nickname.

The music is also so dramatic; every chase scene, every montage, every slow-motion running scene is met with this dramatic music and it doesn’t work for some reason. Either the music isn’t good enough or it does it too often it’s hard to tell, but it doesn’t work. But, what I will praise it for is that somewhere deep down there is heart and a decent intention with this film. It feels like the first DC film where we’ve seen a character go from a normal human (although John is super strong, super athletic and super tall) to a superhero. He acquires a team to help with the technology out and about and has motifs and reasons why he’s doing what he’s doing. All the characters are friendly and inviting, but while it has this good intention behind it, in execution it lets itself down poorly. A poor script coupling with rushed and barely-explained story elements really take any shine away from this film.

Also, the last three DC films have features Mr. E. Nigma, Dr. Fries, Mr. Irons . . . DC comics are pretty terrible with some names.


Plot: * *     Acting: * *     Writing: * *     Presentation: * *

Overall Rating: * *

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