Friday, January 30, 2015

Review: "Steel"

Shaquille O'Neal has been on a retro kick lately. Though he's retired from his rap career, he's successfully gotten a Kickstarter project off the ground for a sequel to Shaq-Fu. And he has his eyes set on Steel 2, as well. Apparently, Shaq is convinced that the problems with the movie were in the special effects and cinematography and he wants to see what he can make with some 21st century movie magic.

Shaq, that's a terrible idea. I don't know if anyone's pointed that out to you, but it's true. Steel was terrible, but the effects were the least of its problems.

Along with Batman and Robin, this movie is often blamed for the temporary death of the comic book movie (as I outlined in greater detail in the intro to my Iron Man Recap). And for good reason. This thing that special kind of terrible. That kind where it's clear the filmmakers were reaching for the stars, but somehow ended up sticking their hand in a backed-up toilet. All the work and effort put into this film failed to create a masterpiece, leaving behind the wreckage of the final product. Now let's sift through the wreckage.

It's a crappy Iron Man ripoff... that came out eleven years before Iron Man. Clever trick.

But actually, this movie is a fairly accurate adaptation of Steel's origin, adding an extended supporting cast to replace all the ties to the Reign of the Supermen storyline that spawned Steel in the first place. The story itself is just mediocre without the links to Superman, though. And since Iron Man came out, this movie looks even worse in hindsight.

Interestingly, Sparky's comic equivalent was the one who sold their weapons on the street as the gun-dealing "White Rabbit." I really wish that had stayed in. But they took that plot point out, most likely so they could follow the standard Hollywood formula that involves a love interest.

The whole thing with the gangs in L.A. Is straight out of the 90's. Gangs and drugs were the issue in America before 9/11. This film is trying to make a statement about gangs, but it gets lost in the muddle.

I hate to keep comparing this to Iron Man, but like that film, this one attempts to have the main character undergo a metaphorical death and rebirth, symbolized by creating a metallic alter ego. But this one is terrible. John is never broken down to the lowest point before he gets back up and rebuilds his life. So it's more like just getting a power up in a video game. There are some attempts to draw on the legend of John Henry, but these are few, far between, and often forgotten. The story of a man beating a machine though blood and sweat rings a bit false when the man is using machines himself to do it.

Main Characters
John Henry Irons
The man is a cipher. At no point do we ever know what's going on in his head. His motivations are unknowable and his actions are unpredictable. But this is just because Shaq's skills as a thespian qualify him to make buzzing sounds while selling Gold Bond, not do drama.

Look, Shaq, I hate to do this to you. You seem like a nice guy. You're a Superman fan like me. I know you've played a role in active law enforcement in real life. You said hi to my girlfriend at a McDonald's once. But taking acting lessons between games doesn't make you fit to be a leading man.

As for the superhero, he gets knocked around far too much. I get that this was supposed to be "realistic," letting the hero take some serious hits, but in the end, he got smacked around for an hour before tricking the villain into losing.

Susan "Sparky" Sparks
Why couldn't this movie have been about her? Out of all the characters, she's the one who grows the most as an individual. Her role as Steel's JARVIS and her wheelchair-bound state actually remind me of another DC character in the best possible way.
Barbara Gordon, aka Oracle, formerly Batgirl.
If this was a movie about Batgirl becoming Oracle, then holy crap this could have been terrific, even if Joel Schumacher had been on board. At the very least, it might have spared us Batman and Robin.

But as it is, her character growth from depressed veteran to handicapped genius is handled with maturity for the most part and let's the character outshine Steel himself. Heck, her wheelchair rockets basically saved the day singlehandedly.

Nathaniel Burke
The character as written is a bit bland, with little motivation besides money and power, but Judd Nelson has a ball with the part.

Supporting Characters
"Big Willy" Daniels

Meh. Simply a means to an end so Burke can have a ready-made criminal empire to team up with.

He's generic 90's gang leader stereotypes rolled up into an eyepatch. I'm just glad the actor, Hill Harper, went on test his acting chops on CSI: NY.

Grandma Odessa
The pre-Madea sassy old lady played by Irma P. Hall who tries and fails to be Steel's version of Aunt May, in no small part to her limited presence.

Uncle Joe
Like Daniels to Burke, Uncle Joe is merely a means to get John a hideout and gear.

Because every 90's movie needed a "hip" kid character. You could not possibly write a more stereotypical "black urban teen with a heart of gold" character. You'd think that Ray J would have been allowed to improvise some dialogue, what with him being Snoop Dogg's cousin and all. As for the character, he's ultimately pointless.

Honestly? Pretty good.

The theme is pretty funky and heroic, and the incidental music works well to fit the scenes. Nothing special, but far from the worst part of the movie.

I will compliment the fact that they used mostly practical effects. But let's talk about the suit.

"I... am... Iron Shaq!"
It's terrible. It's obviously plastic and rubber. But, to be fair, Mr. Freeze's suit from Batman and Robin actually was metal, which caused all sorts of problems. Arnold Schwarzenegger was mainly cast in the role because he's be able to move around in the 200-pound suit. For this movie, without CGI, rubber and plastic were pretty much the only option.

Even though Shaq has stated in interviews that the visuals failed them, they're not entirely terrible for the time. But there's no sugarcoating it, they so do not hold up.

Best Character
Should have been her movie.

Best Actor
Judd Nelson
Judd Nelson in this movie is like Chevy Chase in anything he's ever been in. He simply doesn't care and is just here to have fun. In a cast full of people doing drama, he really stands out.

Best Line
"Lookit here, boy! You ain't Superman! And you damn sure ain't gettin' paid!"

Final Verdict
This movie was an absolute failure, but not quite a spectacular failure. There's some so-bad-it's-good fun to be had, but not much. Go ahead and skip this one along with the vast majority of Shaq's filmography.

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