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DVD Review: Steel (1997)

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Way back in 1992, DC Comics did the unthinkable — they killed Superman. Of course, this did not last a long time, but it did bring a lot of mainstream attention to the character and comics in general. Following Superman's apparent death at the hands of the alien bad guy called Doomsday, four people appeared who more or less claimed to be the returning superhero. One of those four was John Henry Irons, an African-Ameican metal worker and former military weapons designer who fights crime in a specially designed steel suit while wielding a multi-function sledgehammer. Of course, the character makes perfect fodder for a movie.

Unfortunately, this movie was made at a time when superhero movies were not quite as bankable as they are now, special effects technology was not truly ready for the work, and Shaquille O'Neal was pretty much everywhere. In addition to being one of the most dominant basketball players to ever take the court, Shaq also fancied himself an actor and rapper. To this point in his career he had already co-starred in a film with Nick Nolte, starred in Kazaam, and released three albums, in addition to his accolades as a basketball player. You couldn't get much bigger than Shaq in the mid-'90s; however, this does not mean he is good at any of those things other than basketball. The best thing Shaq has going for himself is a likable personality and boatloads of charisma. Sadly, neither is able to save this film.

Steel steps away from the Superman story and looks to stand on its own two feet as a superhero film. While not being a part of any Superman continuity, it is still related to DC, meaning there are a number of groaners related to Superman and Batman. And on top of that, with Shaq as the lead, prepare for even more basketball-related groaners, with a number referencing his inability to shoot free throws. Also, don't forget the supporting performance from Richard Roundtree, complete with an obligatory Shaft reference.


The most amazing thing about my seeing this movie now is that I had been able to avoid it for 13 years. That's right. I never did see it on the big screen, never saw it on video, and now it is on DVD as part of Warner's Archive Collection. That is pretty funny too, as the DVD opens with an advertisement for other Archive Collection titles, all of which are old noir-type films. Not quite sure how Steel fits in with that bunch of titles, but here we are.

We begin with the testing of new top secret weapons with John Henry Irons, Susan Sparks (Annabeth Gish), and Nathaniel Burke (Judd Nelson). Things go badly, people die, and Sparks is left a paraplegic, all thanks to a little overzealousness from one Lt. Burke. In one fell swoop you have your hero, your bad guy, and a reason for them to fight.

What follows is the creation of the supersuit and corresponding hammer, the morphing of Sparks into a home base running computer guru, along the lines of comic character Oracle, and a pursuit of Burke. You see, Burke has begun supplying gangs with the new super weapons that were being tested at the outset.

I am not going to tell you any more of the story. Why bother? It is completely predictable, terribly boring, and seems to have no purpose other than to separate you from your time. The film tried my patience at every turn. I had no connection to the characters, no reason to be involved, and no reason to watch.

The movie was written and directed by Kenneth Johnson who saw success on television throughout the 1980s based on his work on The Incredible Hulk, Alien Nation, and V. Here he takes those television sensibilities to the big screen, and it shows. This might as well have been a small screen production. It looks and feels cheap, from the effects to the Steel costume and everything in between. The performances are bad, Shaq just can't act, Richard Roundtree is a touch too hammy, and Judd Nelson is, well, let's say he is not a very good bad guy. Annabeth Gish is the only one who seems to be putting in any real effort and she doesn't really have much to do.

This Warner Brothers DVD releases is completely no frills. The transfer is crisp and clean. Colors are sharp and well-defined. One would say the transfer is so clean that it accentuates the cheapness of the production, failing to obscure how bad the costume really looks. The movie looks and sounds fine. The lone extra is a full-frame version of the original trailer. 

Bottom line. This is not a good movie. If you are a superhero or DC completist, or better yet a fan of the movie, you will not be disappointed in how the film is presented. You may bemoan the lack of extras, but at least it is on DVD. For everyone else, don't bother;  there really is nothing of interest here.

Not Recommended.

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