Steel (1997)

CapeCapeHalf a capeHalf a balding headTent

A low-budget work that went pretty nearly direct to video, starring a basketball player with absolutely no acting skills whatever, this little story is surprisingly good. Shaquille O’Neal plays John Henry Irons, a.k.a. Steel, a retired Army officer who makes himself a high-tech armored suit in order to fight Communism. I mean, fight crime. (In the source comic, he was a civilian construction worker.) Shaq can’t act even to the extent of enunciating his lines properly, yet he wins you over anyway. You end up believing that this is someone with a big enough heart that he’s ready to truly put his ass on the line to protect people. This movie has some understanding of what constitutes a hero, unlike the typical action movie. Lacking access to oversized special effects, they invested in what Hollywood often seems to regard as a third- or fourth-best alternative: a good script. If you want an example of how to make the right choices in toning down comic-book excess to make it far more believable, this is an excellent illustration.

I think it may have been this film, and the surprise I experienced on seeing how decent it was, that first inspired me to make a comic book movies review site.

Be warned, though, that some who cannot overlook the acting or the low budget consider this a terrible movie. One local video store, in fact, files it in the “So bad it’s half price” section. So believe me at your own risk.

Even if you’re not impressed, though, it really says something about the sad state of DC Comics characters in film, as compared to Marvel and independent characters, that for me this ranks better than almost all of the larger-budget DC-based films.