STEEL (1997)



DIRECTOR: Kenneth Johnson


May Contain Spoilers!

Will we be adding this to our collection? NO

I know Kenneth Johnson namely from V, the 1980’s cult mini-series in which humanoid aliens, who turn out to be lizards in human suits,  begin a Nazi styled takeover of the world, but he is also known for Alien Nation (1988), both the film and the subsequent TV series and his work on The Incredible Hulk TV show. Here, after stating that he was  not interested in doing another superhero project, he was seduced by the idea of doing another version of Batman.

Only Steel isn’t Batman, he supposed to be Superman’s successor following the character’s death in 1993, in DC Comics that is. In that period there were several successors to Superman and Steel was one of them. But by the time the 1997 movie was being produced, basketball players where becoming film stars, in no small part due to the appalling Space Jam(1996) starring Michael Jordan, the year earlier. So, as Steel we have Shaquille O’Neal taking on the role which quite frankly, could have been performed by any part of the SET better.

The plot is derivative and almost too boring to recount and the overall tone is that of a television movie rather than a blockbuster, and in fact the $16,000,000 movie only made little over $1,000,000 back, only being released in the U.S. and two other territories. In the U.K. it was a straight to video release and was therefore seen by nobody, sparing millions from having to sit through the ridiculous title sequence, featuring what sounds like porn music and cheap footage of molten steel being poured. But is this a lost classic?

Absolutely not! The unreleased The Fantastic Four (1994) was not a gem but it was still better that this. O’Neal’s performance is appalling but so are the hammy performances from the better known supporting cast, including Charles Napier who seems to think that this is a comedy. Should this have been a comedy? It can’t have been any worse but no, I think that it could have been treated properly and still held its own better than this but with the ridiculous casting choice of  O’Neal as the leading man and the TV-sentric tone of the whole project, this resembles a pilot rather than a motion picture.

A real shame that this relatively unknown DC character from the early 1990’s has been wasted like this. The film almost goes out of its way to distance itself from Superman, who Steel is effectively there to replace, in the comics at least. This  can only benefit the flagging Superman franchise at this time though, trust me.

Until recently, I had never heard of this film, and it is only available by Warner Archives in the U.S. where they burn a copy to order, a service which I thought was for the golden era classics, but here it is, as well as YouTube, which is where I watched it. The best place for it to be honest.

Thanks to Now Playing Podcasts for introducing me to this film and finding the tedious link to the Superman franchise in their own retrospective review series. That link is paper-thin in the film world guys, but still it’s rare movie, which is hardly a surprise based on its poor quality, but still it’s always nice to see something which you may otherwise have missed.

Overall I would give this a miss. It’s not the Steel from the comics if you like that and in turn it’s nothing to do with Superman. The quality is worse than that of Superman And The Mole-Men (1951), George Reeves’ first Superman feature and trust me, that was no gem either.

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