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Film / Steel

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Steel is a 1997 film based on the DC Comics character of that name, starring Shaquille O'Neal as John Henry Irons, who along with partner Susan "Sparky" Sparx (Annabeth Gish) designs weapons for the military. However, when Nathaniel Burke (Judd Nelson), during a demonstration, tries out the gun on the highest setting, it causes the building they're stationed in to collapse around them. This results in Sparky getting injured, leaving her as a paraplegic, which causes Irons to retire in disgust.

After being dismissed for causing the incident, Burke goes to Big Willie Daniels to recruit him to sell Irons' weapons to gangs. However, when Irons witnesses a bank robbery organized by gang members wielding modified guns based on his design, he begins to investigate, including confronting the gang members at their own hangout. Irons visits Sparky in a veteran's hospital and takes her to his own assembled laboratory, where he hopes they can create weapons needed to combat the criminals. With the help of Uncle Joe (Richard Roundtree), they forge a suit of armor and the weaponry necessary for Irons to carry out his war on crime and become the vigilante "Steel". However, Irons is soon pursued by the cops, who believe him to be connected to the weapons and robberies.

Steel was released months after Batman & Robin, and would be the last DC Comics-based film released by Warner Bros. until the equally-disliked Catwoman (2004).

This film provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion:
    • Richard Roundtree's character, upon showing Shaq his weapon: "I especially love the shaft!"
    • Shaq was notoriously bad at free throws, and so is Steel.
  • Adapted Out: John Henry Irons was originally introduced in The Death of Superman. Superman and related characters do not appear in the movie and the film seems to imply that other DC characters are fictional in the film's setting, as opposed to being contemporaries.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Martin, John Henry's nephew. The kid's only useful moment is telling John Henry how to do a good free throw at the climax.
  • Artistic License – Explosives: Hand grenades do NOT take that long to explode.
  • Artistic License – Law Enforcement: Sparky is able to get John Henry out of prison by pretending to be the District Attorney and ordering the police station to release John, faxing over a forged written authorization for good measure. Needless to say this is not how releasing someone from police custody works — police departments don't actually report directly to the District Attorney's office as both are separate organizations with their own chains of command.
  • Artistic License – Military: Burke directly causing the death of a US Senator and crippling a fellow officer by unsafely operating an experimental weapon with the creator as a direct witness would have seen him in prison, not merely dismissed from the military.
  • Auction of Evil: The final act involves Burke inviting a whole lot of criminal factions (including the Aryans and gang-bangers) to auction the weapons he's demonstrated. He then pulls a Moving the Goalposts on them by explaining that the auction is actually for rental rights of his guns (because, being sophisticated energy blasters that they are, they will need stuff like maintenance and recharging, which he will do for additional fees).
  • Batman Gambit: Steel pulls one on Burke in the end, by telling him not to turn the hammer's red switch, using his vice against him.
  • Berserk Button: Slats was very upset when the hot dog Burke made him eat was actually pork, which he hates.
  • Briar Patching: At the climax, John Henry convinces Burke to turn on his hammer's electromagnetic mode by asking him to not turn the red part of the handle. Burke, who is such an impulsive idiot that he cannot resist finding out what would happen, does and accidentally gives John Henry back his weapon and disarms a few of his goons, allowing John Henry to fight back. The whole movie's plot happens because of a more dramatic version of this — John Henry made clear in the prologue's field test that the weapon had not been tested at full power yet and this was not the time to do so, but Burke turned the weapon to that setting just to see what would happen, causing the malfunction that hurt everybody on the site and got him drummed out of the Army.
    Burke (to John Henry):Well, you know me: I always take things to the next level.
  • By Wall That Is Holey: Happens to John Henry during the chase scene when one of bank robbers knocks over a train car on him.
  • The Cameo: Gary Graham and Eric Pierpoint, who played Matt Sikes and George Francisco respectively in writer/director Kenneth Johnson's series Alien Nation, play the detective in the police lineup scene and the prosecutor at Burke's court-martial respectively.
  • Canon Foreigner: Sparky (although she's arguably Oracle under an assumed name). In fact, pretty much everyone except John Henry and his grandmother.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Steel's hammer super magnet that attracts all metal objects, including the hammer itself.
    • Sparky's wheelchair that she is seen working on.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The couple that gets robbed at knifepoint and the police officer that John Henry saves from a falling helicopter. They come in handy after John Henry is arrested.
  • Clark Kenting: Subverted. Given that Steel has Shaq's uncommon and very large physique, same skin tone and same voice, nobody's fooled for a minute when it comes to deducing who he is. The couple who he saved from a robbery and the police officer whose life he saved only deny that it's him out of gratitude.
  • Cool Car: The bad guys get a Hummer that is extremely heavily armored and carries vehicle-sized versions of Irons' weapons (although unfortunately for Burke the Steel armor is tough enough to withstand said guns and reflect the blast right back towards him). It's so cool that Irons uses it to blast out of the auction site (that is blowing up) at the climax and keeps it for himself in case Steel is ever needed again.
  • Cool Old Guy: Uncle Joe, who lends his junkyard (and everything in it) to John Henry's cause.
  • Court-martialed: Happens when a seemingly harmless weapon the main character makes Goes Horribly Wrong.
  • Crisis Makes Perfect: A Running Gag is John Henry being utterly atrocious with free throws, which means that he's nervous at the climax when he has to throw a hand grenade away from him and Martin through a small hole in a fence — when there is no other option, the room they are in is very small and there's no cover. Martin tells John Henry a couple of tips to perform a good free throw and, sure enough, he pulls it off.
  • Crooks Are Better Armed: Burke's goons are capable of curb-stomping the police thanks to the experimental weapons that he's made for them and it is his Evil Plan to invoke this on a nation-wide basis with him as the sole supplier.
  • Deducing the Secret Identity: Since John Henry Irons has Shaquille O'Neal's rare and enormous physique, pretty much anyone who sees Irons and Steel can put two and two together. Including the Big Bad (who worked with Irons for years):
    Burke: [upon seeing Steel for the first time] Now I wonder who that could be.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Burke kills Duvray because 1) that takes care of potential competition and 2) she called him out on his blasé approach at weapons research.
  • The Dog Bites Back: After Burke shoots Slats, within the confusion from Steel and Sparky's rebellion, the gang opens fire towards him.
  • Dull Surprise: Shaq might be a pretty cool guy, but his acting leaves much to be desired.
  • Endangered Soufflé: Grandma always tells John to quiet down whenever he enters the house.
  • Fell Off the Back of a Truck: The explanation given to Sparks on how they'll get the materials they need for their plan. To demonstrate this, they show Sparky a military-grade supercomputer mainframe that someone stole and then sold to Uncle Joe for scrap.
    Uncle Joe: You'd be surprised what kind of things can be found 'round here that "fell off the back of a truck" (hands her some paper and a pen for her to make a list).
  • Finger Wag: Steel, after shrugging off automatic gunfire aimed at his groin.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing:
    Burke (while waving gun and explaining that the alleged "gun sale" is actually a gun rental auction): And these guns need maintenance, and of course (sing-song) re-charging. And only I can do that for you.
    Big Willy: "Only we"!
    Burke: Only I.
  • Foreshadowing: When the robbery gang shoots John Henry, it bounces right off him. This happens again during the climax when Burke shoots him with another sonic gun.
  • Grenade Hot Potato: A goon throws a handgrenade into a locked room with John and Martin, then almost a whole minute passes where Martin has to instruct John how to throw it back at the goon, before it goes off.
  • Groin Attack: Steel confronts some crooks who shoot at him to no avail. Then they shoot at his crotch, with the same result. Steel wags a finger at them.
  • Handicapped Badass: Sparky. She delivers quite the Superweapon Surprise with her Super Wheelchair on the final battle, making herself a Damsel out of Distress after being kidnapped at gunpoint.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Burke is swiftly killed by his own laser when it is surprisingly deflected off of Steel's armor followed by an appropriate Oh, Crap! reaction.
  • Iconic Item: Steel's iconic hammer, though he uses it as a gun most of the time.
  • I Owe You My Life: Why the police officer whose life Irons saved opts to not identify him despite clearly recognizing him without the Steel mask, having realized that Irons is a good man.
  • In Name Only: The film cuts all Superman references apart from the title character wearing a Superman tattoo... which is unintentional, since Shaquille O'Neal, who plays the title character, already had it.
  • The Internet Is for Porn: When the various groups are trying to buy the sonic weapons online, one of them mentions that the internet is good for more than just porn.
  • Jive Turkey: Martin. Overall shows how much of a stupid crook he is.
  • Just Think of the Potential!: John Henry was already undecided about whether or not stay in the Army after the accident, but what finally makes him decide is the Jerkass general who leads R&D telling him he's ecstatic about the destructive power of the fully unleashed weapons (which were meant to be non-lethal) and that he wants John Henry to work on that.
  • Meaningful Name: "A man named John Henry must have a hammer!"
  • Militaries Are Useless: Colonel David seems remarkably unconcerned that top-secret, classified military technology has leaked onto the streets of Los Angeles and is being used by gangs, and it never once occurs to him that the man recently discharged for abusing those weapons may be involved. The military also arrives too late to do anything about the auction but they at least manage to stop the fleeing criminal leaders.
  • Mission Control: Sparky for John Henry.
  • Never My Fault: Burke deliberately uses a weapon on an untested setting, causing the death of a senator and the crippling jury of a fellow soldier. Then he has the gall to blame John Henry for testifying against him in court and "selling him out."
  • Non-Actor Vehicle: Basketball player playing superhero. Yeah, pretty much one of the biggest"what?" factors amongst the audience.
  • Novelization: By Dean Wesley Smith. A junior novelization was also released, written by Steel’s co-creator Louise Simonson.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Susan "Sparky" Sparx.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: As Burke lampshades, Irons as Steel isn't exactly a hard man to identify.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Johnny and Sparky. It's even implied she has no relatives to visit her at the VA hospital, other than John Henry.
  • Pun: Shaft hands Steel his hammer, complimenting its....shaft....
  • Ray Gun: The weapons developed by Johnny and stolen by Burke appear to be able to switch between Frickin' Laser Beams and concussion blast.
  • Running Gag: Johnny's inability to make a free throw and Grandma Odessa's attempt in making a souffle.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Sparky being paralyzed from the weapon he designed is what drives Johnny to leave the military.
  • Self-Deprecation: Steel has the same success rate of making free throws as Shaq does (See Running Gag).
  • Shout-Out:
    • When Steel gets away after stopping some criminals, a cop asks where he went. His partner quips, "The Batcave?"
    • Also the unintentional Mythology Gag of Shaq's real-life Superman tattoo.
  • Smug Snake: Burke. His plan to provide criminals with super-weapons includes him being the sole (and we mean sole) supplier of said weapons and their respective maintenance (and even recharging), and believes that John Henry's gear is inferior up until he gets Hoist by His Own Petard.
  • Stupid Evil:
    • Burke twice disobeys a warning from John Henry to not toy around with the settings of a weapon he designed out of curiosity and twice it bites him in the ass.
    • For a gang who's trying to rob a bank, they're quite noisy in front of the security cameras. Made even worse when they, in a bar filled with people, brag about it when said robbery appears on TV.
  • Super Wheelchair: Sparky's motorized wheelchair has a high-powered motor, concealed sonic blasters, and her computer's keyboard is attached to one of the chair's arms. And at the very last scene, she also showcases that she modified it so she would be able to stand up with its support.
  • Supreme Chef: Grandma Odessa.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: The movie doesn't even bother pretending that someone with Shaquille O'Neal's size and physique could keep a Secret Identity for very long. Pretty much everyone who has seen both Steel and Irons at different times can put two and two together and Burke immediately figures it out after seeing Irons in costume for the first time.
  • Swiss-Army Weapon: John Henry's Steel hammer, which obviously is a sledgehammer, plus has a shaft that can be magnetized and conceals a laser, sonic cannon, and pump-action tear gas grenade launcher.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: After John is arrested, police ask the couple he protected from a purse snatcher to identify him. They are clearly reluctant, as he actually was good to them. In the end, despite clearly recognizing both the giant man and the injury on his chin, they refuse to do so.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Burke, back on the army (he puts the experimental weapons to their full up to eleven power level, creating the devastation that cripples Sparky, because he wanted to see what that level could do (bear in mind "low power" could fuck up an Abrams tank in one shot) and to demonstrate to the Joint Chiefs the viability of said weapons, even when John Henry explicitly told him that the weapons had not been tested at that level) and when he becomes a criminal mastermind he is a serious case of No Honor Among Thieves.
  • Trash Landing: After leaping off buidlings to get away from the targeting police, Steel falls off and into a dumpster (same one that he had stored his bike).
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Burke has Irons disarmed and dead to rights but then opts to just let him sit there in the middle of the ongoing auction for whatever reason. He even goes out of his way to shoot Willy but doesn't seem to realize there was no practical reason to keep Irons alive at all.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Burke casually shoots Big Willy Daniels in the middle of an auction. Then for good measure he decides to use the bank-robbing crooks as live target practice.


Video Example(s):


"The Explosion waits quietly"

In the film Steel, a Mook tosses a grenade into a room that Shaq and his friend are locked in.... but it does not go off. The two have a short conversation where the friend teaches Shaq how to throw, And they throw it back to the mook where it finally goes off. As the Nostalgia Critic points out, grenades should not take this long to explode and shows a more realistic outcome of the scene.(In Real Life, hand grenades detonate in 5 seconds AT MOST).

How well does it match the trope?

4.2 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / ArtisticLicenseExplosives

Media sources: