Friday, July 5, 2013
It took me a while, but I finally got around to Steel, the 1997 movie starring Shaquille O'Neal. I don't think I need to tell you this is a bad movie. I knew what I was getting into when I went in: history has judged this movie and it has done so fairly.
My biggest issue with the movie is that I happen to like the DC character it's based on quite a lot. In the comics, John Henry Irons was introduced as one of four "replacement" Supermen during the arc where Superman died fighting Doomsday. Irons was a former weapons designer who quit after having a crisis of conscience. Inspired by Superman's example and sacrifice, he built a power suit and started fighting evil. He's essentially become the Tony Stark of the DCU.
The movie, of course, threw out all but a handful of details. Irons still starts out as a weapons designer, though he's portrayed as significantly less cutting edge than he is in the comics. The movie implies the real genius behind the weapons is a new character, Susan Sparks (more on her in a minute). Needless to say, the connections to Superman are severely cut back. There's actually a little more than I'd anticipated - Irons has a Superman tattoo containing the phrase "Man of Steel." It's strongly implied this is the source of his costumed name, too. For what little it's worth, I appreciated the nod.
Setting that aside, it's pretty clear the filmmakers were bigger Batman fans than Superman. Steel's mask bears some resemblance to versions of the live-action Batman masks, and his power level is dropped to something closer to the Dark Knight's.
And then there's Susan Sparks, the super-genius red-head who suffers a spinal injury in the first five minutes of the movie then goes on to help Irons build his crime-fighting gadgets and uses a computer to monitor his progress and hack into everything from traffic lights to illegal weapons auctions.
So, yeah. They more or less put Oracle in this movie. And, shockingly, they didn't do a horrible job with her. Granted, it's about the only thing in the movie that isn't horrible, and it's still a long way from good.
The movie's pace drags even more than you'd expect. It takes more than forty minutes for the suit to be built, and things don't pick up when it's constructed. The costume is among the worst I've ever seen in a superhero movie, and the fights are astonishingly boring. For the most part, combat is reduced to Steel and bad guys shooting at each other. I've read some quotes suggesting the director had no interest in superheroes - it shows.
The acting is pretty awful for the most part, but I can't imagine anyone expected otherwise. The direction's even worse, but - again - no surprise there. The movie's tone is uneven: it can't decide whether it's supposed to be serious or a farce.
I'm glad I can cross this one off my list, though I'm not sure I can say I'm glad I saw it. It was pretty awful, but I've seen worse.
Someday, I hope Steel gets a chance to appear on screen in a film that does him justice. I'd love to see him introduced in a Superman movie (maybe in Man of Steel 3 - I'm hoping the next installment is reserved for Kara). Irons is a great character, and he deserves better than this.