Monday, January 26, 2015

Recap: "Steel" Part 1: Foul Play

Steel. Just... Steel. 2.7 on IMDb. 12% on Rotten Tomatoes. I'm not beating around the bush. This is terrible. Now let's have a blast tearing it apart and making fun of it. That's the only way we're going to get enjoyment out of it.

Which is probably what the director said after seeing Shaq's acting.
The movie begins with what I actually have to admit is a fairly effective opening title sequence. It’s nothing special; producer credits, Shaq’s name, and the name of the movie, and the rest of the credits, but the music does set a nice tone and the effect of molten steel pouring into a vat is simple, but pretty cool.

The music is… interesting, now that I mention it. It’s much like the theme for the Wild Wild West film. It mixes an orchestral, heroic theme with what can only be described as a groovy Blaxploitation funk.

This is as good a time as ever to bring up what Blaxploitation is, for those of you who might not familiar with the term. In a word, Shaft. In many words, entertainment produced featuring and for African-American audiences, often featuring martial arts, action, and crime busting, and sticking it to the man (often white) though it did branch out into other genres. Wikipedia, as always, has more information if you’re curious, but basically, this is a Blaxploitation superhero movie. Quite the tame one compared to classics of the genre like Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song and Foxy Brown, but that’s because this thing was made for all audiences by a very 1990’s Warner Brothers.

This Warner Brothers.
The movie opens in the great outdoors, where a military tank drives through the forest, crushing a tree. Because screw subtlety, they want us to know that weapons are the enemy. In the bushes, a high-tech gun takes aim at the tank before destroying it with a combination of lasers and what appear to be photon bursts. Because screw logic, they want us to know that weapons will save the day despite the anti-weapon message of the film.

The man in the tank surrenders because his biscuit’s a-burning, and we see that this was ClichĂ© Opening #32: The Training Sequence. The head scientist (I think; she’s the only one saying things about science and data and stuff) is Susan “Sparky” Sparks, and throws some compliments over to the weapon’s tester/designer, Shaquille O’Neal. Oh, sure, the movie claims that he’s called “John Henry Irons,” but that’s malarkey. Let’s face it, everyone who’s ever watched this movie just refers to him as “Shaq” in their heads, much like how William Shatner wasn’t playing T.J. Hooker, it was just Captain Kirk deciding he wanted to be a cop for a while, as Eddie Izzard taught us. Also, have some more Eddie Izzard.

Thanks, Eddie.
But I guess I can try to refer to Shaq as “John.” After all, he’s really gotten into character as a scientist. Right?

John: “Moving the capaci-tor at the start really helped fix the balance.”

Well, looks like somebody has no idea what a capacitor is. Also, he may have actually said something along the lines of “to the start,” but I’m not sure. Shaq is a bit of a mumbler. Anyway, they show off the damage done to the visiting Senator while Shaq John tries to use words like “megavolts.” Have you ever seen science fiction where you can tell that an actor has no idea what a phrase like “quantum instability in the tachyon-flux matrix-accelerator” means? Shaq has the same problem with the words “capacitor” and “megavolts.”

Anyway, Sparky’s impressed because John’s new alloy kept the barrel of the gun impressively cool.

John: “Cool just like…”


John: “You.”

Aw, Shaq’s trying to flirt. They go in for a…. well, it’s like a fistbump, but they just end up touching pointer fingers. Let’s call it an “E.T.”

The Senator’s quite impressed by these weapons, so one of the soldiers, Lt. Nathaniel Burke (Judd Nelson), creepily informs her that he made some adjustments that could make it even more powerful. Because messing with other scientist’s stuff never turns out badly. Like when Victor Van Damme messed with Reed Richards’ teleportation coordinates, turning them into the Ultimate Fantastic Four.


Anyway, the next part of the test is for a sonic cannon, which will take place in an artificial town. John brags that this weapon is non-lethal, because he doesn’t like killing. Lt. Burke wants to crank the thing up to show the Senator what it’s capable of, but Sparky says that they haven’t tested that far yet.

After all, they spent most of their testing period trying to teach Shaq to say "capacitor."
As you might imagine, Burke gets permission to lead the test and cranks it all the way up. Despite the best “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Shaq can muster, the sonic burst takes out the target building before ricocheting towards the building they’re all in, causing it to start collapsing.

Shaq John manages to save Sparky from the exceptionally bouncy "concrete” that fell on Sparky and the senator, but as the suddenly-cut-to court-martial explains to us, the senator died and Sparky herself is now paralyzed from the waist down. But Shaq John lets the court know exactly who was to blame: Lt. Burke. After the court-martial, John lets Burke know just how unbelievably angry he is in the most vicious terms imaginable.

John: “What you did was foul.”

Spoken like a true basketball player.

Burke is all upset over missing his big break to be the next Tony Stark, and merely gets dismissed from the army. The colonel let’s John know that he’s very anxious to keep moving forward with these weapons, but John’s had enough and leaves the project. Shaq John visits Sparky in the hospital and brings her some flowers, like a true gentleman who designed the weapon that will probably prevent her from walking ever again. They talk about Shaq John’s resignation from the army, and Sparky says she’ll come visit him as soon as she’s back on her feet. So, yeah, there’s an elephant in the room. And it’s not Shaq.

"I can't wait to get out of here and do some walking. Yep, lots of walking. Running, too."
But Shaq John says nothing, and gives Sparky his address and phone number. He’s heading back home. Soon, Shaq John (I swear, I’m not repeatedly typing “Shaq” when referring to John on purpose, it’s just that hard to stop doing) is on the bus to L.A. as Burke goes there on a plane, no doubt excited to be the precursor to Jeff Bridges’s Obadiah Stane.

After John gets welcomed back by a small boy while walking down the street, a basketball rolls into his path. With a little encouragement from the kids, he decides to try and make a free throw. But of course, being Shaquille O’Neal, he fails to make it. There you go sports fans, that’s the “Shaq can’t make free throws” joke. Was it all you had hoped for?

Meanwhile, Burke visits with an arcade manager. Okay, you dang post-90’s kids, let me explain. Back in the day, video games were these big old boxes that were kept in buildings called “arcades” that could only play one game and cost quarters to play. Like Chuck E Cheese, but Pac-Man instead of skee ball. Anyway, Burke basically waltzes right in and says, “Hey, wanna deal some weapons like old times?”

"C'mon, pal, we're villains in a 90's movie. It's either this or we have to start dealing drugs."
Daniels: “I’m a legitimate businessman.”

Not after they invent the Playstation 2, buddy. Get out now.

But Burke piques Daniels’s interest by promising that they can sell the weapons of the future to the third-world countries of today. Meanwhile, Shaq John is still walking back home. But this time, he runs into this movie’s Jar-Jar, Martin. Allow me to explain. Martin is a black teenager. In a 90’s family movie. Whose dialogue was probably written by translucently white men.

Martin: “Man, I got all kinda crazy honeys to whet me.”

Case in point. (Also, I might have heard that wrong; that might have been “waiting for me.” Sorry, I don’t speak white-guy-written ebonics.)

Shaq John is momentarily dismayed at the continued proliferation of crime in his neighborhood, but this is soon forgotten. And by that, I mean that Shaq forgets to keep this in mind as he’s acting. He and Martin enter Grandma Odessa’s house, and we get a “funny” bit where she makes everyone be quiet because she’s trying to make a soufflĂ©. After more such “humor,” Grandma makes Martin go do some homework while she and Shaq John (seriously, I’m only keeping these mistakes in to show you how easy it is to keep doing it) talk about how hard it’s been to keep Martin out of gangs, what with this being 90’s L.A. But again, that’s quickly forgotten about in favor of reiterating the fact that John left the military because they want him to build weapons.

John: “No more weapons for me. Lot better for my soul.”

"Who's a good puppy?"
John soon has a new job lined up at a steelworking plant with improbably attractive foremen women, and Daniels checks on his illegal arms-dealing business under his arcade. Burke provides a prototype while making some vague mentions about wanting to “give back to the community” with these weapons. After a test fire, it burns the wielder’s face, so clearly, there’s some tinkering to do.

Later that night, after a hard day of building illegal weapons, they all enter the elevator except for Daniels, Burke, and one of the henchmen. Using some kind of unexplained doohickey, Burke breaks the elevator and causes it to crash. And like the Mirror Universe, the survivors apparently all move up in rank. So, yeah, that was a random bit of villainy. Here’s some more. They begin assembling a gang to take the weapons out and test them on the streets.

Meanwhile, Shaq John and Martin are riding in a police car driven by John’s old friend, Norma. I guess they’re going to go volunteer at this anti-gang presentation or something. It doesn’t really matter because something interesting will no doubt happen on the way. Martin complains that he didn’t get to go get a job at this place that sells arcade games that his gang friends told him about, and before you can put the hints together, an armored vehicle unloads a bunch of street hoodlums with sonic cannons and laser guns upon a bank. Norma gets a report of this attempted robbery, and she drops off the civilians before heading towards an area with gangs and gunfire.

Martin: “Let’s get ready to rumble!”

I mean, she brings the civilians along to the armed robbery. Of course.

There’s a conflict between the cops and the robbers, and the robbers win hands down, despite Shaq John running out to assist. I was going to criticize this idiotic move, but John is a former soldier. But sadly, Norma’s car gets caught in the crossfire. He carries her to safety before her car can explode, and gives the crooks what Shaq probably believes is a steely glare.

John: “It’s on, now.”

Said with all the conviction of a man flipping a light switch.

In what I have to admit is a fairly nice homage to the original comics, which had a similar scene, John runs off after a straggler. But what makes this scene stupid is that they’re quite obviously lightly jogging through L.A. A breakneck chase this is not. John stops chasing the kid to rescue a guy about to be hit by a train, and keeps going through the trainyard. After failing to stop the kid, getting shot at by one of his own weapons, and narrowly dodging a falling train, he finally sneaks up on the kid with help from the film's editor and interrogates him.

John: “Where’d you get this?”

He learned it by watching you!

But John gets shot by another gang member, and the two escape while Shaq tries to make pain noises like his acting coach taught him.

To be continued! Will John Henry Irons survive? Will Shaq take some acting lessons? Will Steel actually appear in this movie called "Steel"? Find out in Part 2!


  1. "weapons will save the day despite the anti-weapon message of the film"

    I thought this was Steel movie not an adaptation of Superman at Earth's End

    "Like when Victor Van Damme messed with Reed Richards’ teleportation coordinates, turning them into the Ultimate Fantastic Four"

    To be fair if Doom had listened to Reed in Earth-616 he wouldn't have been Doctor Doom or was that retconned for this week?

    "Sparky herself is now paralyzed from the waist down"

    So a smart redhead is paralyzed... why does something greek that rhymes with buckle come to mind?

    1. Tinkering with another scientist's work only ends badly for the villain.

  2. Oh god I almost forgot this movie. Still better than green lantern at least.
    Does Steel even exist anymore? I have not read any DC other than Earth 2 since the whole new 52 disaster.

    Also an E.T. is that a Bobs Burgers reference?

    1. Nope, it was an E.T. reference. I've never seen Bob's Burgers. I tend to not watch things on Fox, mainly because I'm pretty sure they've canceled more shows than they've ever actually aired.

      As for Steel, he was active in Metropolis around the same time Superman first fought Brainiac in the New 52. I'd actually recommend Grant Morisson's run on Action Comics for the most part. Although, the New 52 has apparently gone to Hell with a million crisis cataclysms since Forever Evil, so I don't know what's become of Steel. And now that DC's advertising stories for the pre-New 52 universe, I've basically given up trying to keep track of it all.