Trash or Treasure: STEEL

J.C. De Leon

by: J.C. De Leon
June 9th, 2011

“Trash or Treasure” is a recurring feature at Gordon and the Whale in which I return to a film that holds a special place in my heart (for a multitude of possible reasons) - and see if it is still deserving of that place. Have I been holding on to a piece of trash, or are my beloved films still bonafide treasure?

This week’s Trash or Treasure inspiration comes from a very welcome place for me. As some of you may know, I’m a huge basketball junkie, I have been all my life. One of my all-time favorite basketball players was Shaquille O’Neal, I say was because last week, via Twitter, he announced his retirement. I started reflecting on his career, and one of the more startling revelations upon that reflection (besides that Shaq’s been in the NBA since I was 9 years old) was that I was once a huge fan of STEEL. I was a fan of that movie because I was a fan of his. I bought his albums, had his basketball cards, wore his jersey, and saw all of his movies. Well, I actually never saw KAZAAM, but I saw and loved BLUE CHIPS, and I remember really liking STEEL.

Having not seen it in a very long time, I decided to make that this week’s Trash or Treasure. Will I still treasure this superhero Shaq-sized adventure, or will it resemble the last few years of his career in the NBA?

For those who might not be familiar with the film, STEEL is based on a DC Comics character that first appears in the Reign of the Supermen storyline of the Superman series. Although none of that matters because other than the name and the look, the film separates from the comic quite a bit. It introduces new characters and all but eliminates the Superman mythos to the character. This is, after all, a Shaquille O’Neal vehicle, and (at the time) Shaq Diesel delivered a damn good superhero film.

The film centers around John Henry Irons (Shaquille O’Neal), a weapons designer for the military who has developed some very intense weapons based on sonic vibrations. An overzealous soldier Nathaniel Burke (Judd Nelson) decides to test the weapons at their highest setting despite the warnings of Irons. When a building falls on his best friend, Susan “Sparky” Sparks (Annabeth Gish), and paralyzes her, Irons resigns from the military in disgust at the damage his weapons are capable of.

Meanwhile, Burke has stolen some of the weapons and given them to kids to showcase their power to weapons dealers all over the world. But he picked the wrong neighborhood, as it’s also where Irons grew up, and the bad influence of Burke begins to seep into Irons’ family. When Irons decides to do something about it, he enlists the help of Sparky the only way he knows how to, by becoming human steel.

This was a time in movie history where superhero films weren’t nearly as commonplace as they are today and so the teenage me couldn’t wait to see one my favorite basketball players on-screen being a hero, because this is what 15 year olds think are cool. I even thought Steel’s costume was pretty cool.

As a superhero movie, it followed the basic outline of a typical origin story so there isn’t anything here that I, as a Shaq-loving teenager, wouldn’t have liked. That being said, upon a fresh viewing of this movie, it has dawned on me that this isn’t a film worthy of being on the pedestal of past films that I’ve held in a high regard. Cheesy writing, an unenthusiastic Judd Nelson, and way too many Shaq-is-a-giant-human-being jokes combined with him doing all of his own stunts (because, let’s face it, they don’t make stuntmen in Shaq size) and you’ve got a film that was a good idea, but executed poorly. I suppose the film should get proper recognition for making a modern superhero film with almost no CGI, but maybe some CGI is a good thing.

I’ll always regard Shaquille O’Neal as one my favorite people, especially in terms of basketball players. He is a larger-than-life figure who’s done a lot for his community and brought joy to kids all over the world in all kinds of formats, not just on the basketball court.

He will always be missed, and truthfully, there may always be a part of me that holds a certain level of appreciation for this film but ultimately the Trash or Treasure verdict here is: TRASH. Also, the costume, not very cool anymore, but that kinda goes without saying.

So long, Shaq! I’ll miss you, and I hope you’ll find a way to stick around in our lives for a little bit longer.

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