Invincible Iron Man, The (US - DVD R1)
Gabe Powers finds more than a few chinks in this particular suit of armour
In the beginning of this modern retelling of the origin of the popular Marvel Comics hero Iron Man, billionaire playboy industrialist Tony Stark has decided to spend hundreds of millions of his company's dollars into an excavation project in China. For unknown reasons Stark has done this pro bono. The excavation will see the re-emergence of the buried temple of the Mandarin, one of Chinese history's greatest villains. Despite vehement protests from locals, including a group of industrial terrorists hell bent on stopping the re-emergence, the temple is raised and the evil is released.
When Stark goes to China to investigate the excavation he finds himself mortally wounded and imprisoned. He and his buddy, Mr. Conveniently Left Alive, build Tony a giant pacemaker to keep him alive, and the two men go to work constructing the mighty Iron Man armour at the request of the captors (sort of). Initially used to escape his prison, Stark must now use the armour to fight the evil Mandarin’s henchmen, the Elementals. Much brooding and exploding commences.
Really, truly, and honestly I wanted to enjoy this film. I'd forgotten I'd requested a screener copy, and was pleasantly surprised when it appeared on my doorstep (quite literally, hidden in the snow). I never got around to seeing the Ultimate Avengers animated films, and heard generally negative things about them, but I'm a massive Justice League fan and I'm desperate for a replacement. I need new comic book hero based action/dramas. The Invincible Iron Man (or as I like to call it, Iron Man Begins) isn't good or even totally awful, it's just entirely average, unoriginal, and painfully forgettable.
I'm not all that familiar with the character beyond the basics—his name is Tony Stark, he's a billionaire industrialist, he has a bum ticker, the suit acts as a sort of giant iron lung, and he developed a major drinking problem. He's you basic Golden Age Marvel creation, a super powered hero with deep emotional and physical flaws. The problem I've always had, and I'm sure the character's fans will chastise me for saying this, is that Iron Man is a lot like an industrialized version of Batman. Both are millionaire playboys who use their enormous wealth to battle crime, and both have deep seeded flaws, though Bruce Wayne's flaws are more psychological than Tony Stark's.
One would think that the folks at Marvel would want to downplay these similarities, but apparently they decided to throw them up in neon lights, and hire a couple of showgirls to point at them. There are entire scenes here lifted from Chris Nolan's recent Batman origin story, Batman Begins. Retelling the origin of a character in an Asian setting is probably just a coincidence, but the film's final scene where the mysterious transferring of stock shares is revealed, and a close personal friend of our hero is promoted is nothing short forgery. Or sloppy research.
Several members of the creative team worked on better shows and films, like DC's Batman, and the decent '90s animated incarnation of Spider-Man. These guys should really know better, and should be aware of the general rise in the quality of television animation over the last decade. The popularization of Japanese animation, the success of Bruce Timm's DC Animated Universe, and recent action dramas aimed at children like Avatar: The Last Airbender, all hurt the expectations of The Invincible Iron Man. Even with its more 'adult' PG-13 rating (which it totally doesn't earn), and the attempted focus on character over action, the entire filmed feels dumbed down, as if the creators don't trust their audience's intelligence.
Animation-wise, I have no problem with the integrating of digital animation and traditional cell animation, and it doesn't even bother me when the two don't really gel. I really like the 'cell shaded' look of the Iron Man and Elemental Warriors animation, but their herky-jerky movement is often jarring.
The hand drawn animation reveals the show's low budget, but adds a sort of hand crafted quaintness. Stylistically I'm okay with (though bored by) the character designs (they remind me of the character designs on Gargoyles), but I don't like the soft-edged digital shading. It's sloppy, makes the hand drawn work dirty, and is just generally a rather ugly practice. I caught more than a few budget slicing techniques, like reduced frame rates, but I suppose the budget isn't the fault of the animators. The final battle animation, however, is just generally pretty awful (either leave the chick clothed or have the courage to show her nude body, these 'shadows' aren't doing it), and skewed a bit of my good will.
Occasionally the animation style will change a bit, most likely due to the fact that several different Korean animation directors worked on several different scenes. After years of watching lower budgeted, television animation I'm personally used to this, but the best of these styles is the least utilized. These fleeting images reminded me of a less abstract version of Peter Chung Aeon Flux.
The acting is good, but not quite to the level of some of the Bruce Timm regulars like Kevin Conroy, Phil LaMarr, and Michael Rosenbaum. I like the way Tony Stark is played, which is basically a half Batman, half James Bond pompous ass who sees the err of his ways. I appreciate the fact that these actors can actually sell some pretty hammy comic book dialogue, and create some genuine human depth to such 2D characters. Though the animation doesn't exactly exude emotion, the voices are affecting enough. I can't blame the people behind the microphones for this film's general blandness.
In the end, it's the overall arc and structure of the film that makes it so forgettable. The more 'adult' scenes of business commerce and violent terrorism never blend with the more fantastical scenes of monster fighting. The filmmakers simply can't decide if they're making a serious 'film' or a bit of mindless entertainment. It's easy to overlook weak plotting and dialogue if the action is there, but the action is often boring and repetitive. There's some interesting lighting work, and I liked the Iron Man designs, but the structure of the fighting isn't particularly dynamic, and feeds into the rest of the film's blah nature.
The film is presented in an anamorphically enhanced 1.78:1 widescreen, which adds some class to the relatively cheap flick. Colours are finely produced, and details are sharp without too much of the edge enhancement that can often plague budget and television animation. The problem here is the fact that the transfer is interlaced rather than progressive, and has some awful combing issues. Mouths are especially affected, which is very distracting.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is honestly impressive. It almost makes one forget he watching a straight to video cartoon. Almost. The sound design is nice, and sometimes gives the LFE and surround speakers a decent workout. Dialogue is sharp and natural. Music is big without taking over any given scene.
But lets talk for a second here about that music. The score is very expertly crafted and very dramatic. I greatly appreciate the fact that the entire film is scored without featuring any insipid heavy metal or techno-dance breakdowns. The problem here is originality. I know that originality in music—film scores in particular—is almost impossible, and one is almost expected to borrow cues from other writers. My issue is with the major cue composer Guy Michelmore has borrowed, which is a slight reworking of Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard's Batman Begins work, specifically the piece used during Bruce Wayne's mountain climb at the beginning of the film. Again, the filmmakers really should've gone out of their way to avoid these kinds of comparisons.
There's not much here of great interest, but enough to sling a little credit the disc's way. Things start with an alternate opening sequence that sets up the history of the Mandarin. The sequence is not animated, but features some decent 'moving' storyboards. It's a nice epic way to start the flick, but doesn't match the rest of the film's flow, and its deletion is understandable.
Then we've got a fluffy making-of featurette entitled 'The Origin of Iron Man', which features the creators bragging about their creation. Yawn. I know it's basically suppose to be an ad selling the piece, but all this back patting is likely to cause a massive haematoma.
There are two art galleries. The first one features pictures and histories of the various Iron Man armour, and was probably my favourite feature. Again, I'm not all that familiar with the character, so some of his real comic history is a welcome addition. The second gallery is of the film's concept art, and also features some digital maquettes.
The last extra is the pre-credit sequence of Lionsgate and Marvel's upcoming Dr. Strange animated film. My understanding of Dr. Strange is somewhere near my understanding of Iron Man, but I'm thinking this action movie style isn't best suited to the character. I admit that it'll be hard for me to ever take Strange seriously, in light of The Venture Bros., which features an aging single dad version of the character.
I'm sure the heads at Marvel looked at this film as an elongated advertisement for their upcoming freshman studio produced version of the character. In any case, this is a lacklustre film, with some decent animation and performances. The flick is just good enough to make the viewer pine for what could've been. The DVD features a weak interlaced transfer and extras, but has a very solid 5.1 surround presentation. I recommend a rent to the curious at best.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 23rd January 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Alternate Opening Sequence, The Origin of Iron Man, Hall of Iron Man Armor, Concept Gallery, A Look at Dr. Strange
Easter Egg: No
Director: Frank Paur
Cast: Marc Worden, Gwendoline Yeo, Fred Tatasciore, Rodney Saulsberry, Elisa Gabrielli
Genre: Action and Animation
Length: 83 minutes
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