Almost 25 years ago DC comics released a different Man of Steel movie – 1997’s Steel, starring Shaquille O’Neal. While the movie could have ushered in a new era of greatness for DC’s film adaptations, it was maligned by critics and declared a box office failure.
Despite the poor reception, Shaquille O’Neal says he would like another shot at Steel if the opportunity presents itself. In an interview with Pop Culture, the NBA Champion talked about his trip into the DC Comics universe. He believes that the visual effects of the time played a huge role in how the movie was received.
“Well, if you look at the Steel character, it’s me,” Shaquille O’Neal told the publication. “It’s all me, John Henry Irons is me. You know, when we did the movie, I would have liked to have those Iron Man effects, but nah, we did the movie in the early ’90s, and technology wasn’t as it is now, but I would love to be able to do a redo of that.”
John Henry Irons (aka Shaquille O’Neal’s Steel) made his major comic book debut following the death of Superman at the hands of Doomsday. When four new Supermen (Superboy, The Last Son Of Krypton, Steel and The Cyborg) arrived on the scene decked out in the iconic S-shield, fans were asked which (if any) of them could be the real Superman. Steel was only one who said he wasn’t Superman – even though he had the same moral code, despite having no actual powers.
Instead, John Henry Irons was an engineering genius who specialized in creating weapons and built an armored suit which gave him enhanced strength and abilities, including flight. When the real Superman finally returned, he considered Steel to be an ally. Steel later became a valued member of the Justice League and played a pivotal role in some of the biggest crossover stories DC ever told. Well-liked, heroic, intelligent and an all-around good guy, Steel became one of DC’s best B-list characters. Shaquille O’Neal was the first actor to bring him to life on the big screen.
However, the 1997 film was only loosely based on the comic book character. Written and directed by Kenneth Johnson, the film separated itself from the original story by removing John Henry Irons’ status as a supporting character of Superman. It also used original protagonists and antagonists. Starring alongside Shaquille O’Neal were Annabeth Gish as Steel’s wheelchair-using partner Susan Sparks, and Judd Nelson as their rival Nathaniel Burke.
The story focused on an accident caused by Burke which leaves Sparks paralyzed. The accident results in Irons (Shaquille O’Neal) quitting his job. Then Burke begins mass-producing weapons and selling them to criminals. To stop Burke, Irons and Sparks create a suit of armor that leads Irons to become the superhero Steel.
Although all the elements of a great superhero story were there, the film still fell into obscurity. Maybe it would have done better if all the Superman stuff wasn’t cut out of it? Because sometimes sticking to the source material is what makes or break a movie. So perhaps a remake, with Shaquille O’Neal reprising his role as Steel isn’t such a bad idea.
Unfortunately, Steel is not in the lineup for the DC Extended Universe, which started in 2013 with Man of Steel. DC currently has four films set for release next year, including Black Adam, The Flash, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, and Batgirl.