Judge Clark Douglas has written a stark review of this film.
A lone warrior. A suit of armor. Our only hope. Iron Man!
Starring in his first animated movie!
Facts of the Case
Tony Stark (Marc Worden, Ultimate Avengers) is one successful guy. He's got billions of dollars, a successful cutting-edge business, and he beds a new woman every single night. Yeah, he's living the good life. The only thing is, the board members at his company are getting increasingly unhappy with Tony. They accuse him of spending way too much money on some nine-figure "charity" project in China, and wonder what on earth he's doing working on another half-billion dollar "secret project" in his lab. The board decides to take away Tony's power, leaving control on the hands of Howard Stark (John McCook, The Bold and the Beautiful), Tony's father.
While Tony is sulking about his new situation, he hears some terrible news. Something has gone terribly wrong on his project in China. His close friend and business associate, Rhodey (Rodney Saulsberry, The Comebacks), has gone missing, and all the project workers are dead. Strange and mystical things have begun to take place, too. Tony immediately flies out to China but is badly injured shortly after he arrives. Being the resourceful dude that he is, Tony makes the most of his physical limitations and creates a powerful metal suit for himself that will keep him alive and take some bad guys down. Tony Stark is no longer a simple businessman. He is The Invincible Iron Man!
Marvel sure is pumping out these PG-13 animated features at a fast rate. When I popped in the Blu-ray disc for The Invincible Iron Man, I was startled to see no less than five previews for new and/or forthcoming Marvel animated features. Yes, five! Each time DC releases a new animated feature, you usually get one sneak peek at the next film coming out in six months. Marvel's fast and furious pace should be thrilling for their fans, but I'm sorry to report that this seems to be a case of quantity over quality. Most have been pretty unimpressed with Marvel's animated output so far, and I doubt The Invincible Iron Man is going to change that. What we have here is a far cry from Justice League: The New Frontier or Hellboy: Sword of Storms. Heck, it's not even close to Batman: Gotham Knight.
I'm a little puzzled as to why they decided to take the approach they did with this particular Iron Man story. This summer, Iron Man finally got his own blockbuster motion picture, and it was a huge success. The movie did some fascinating things with the character's origin and mythology, and arguably created the best Iron Man story to date. Most either liked or loved the film, and it made a whole lot of money at the box office. In retrospect, the sensible thing would have been to create an animated film that tied into the then-forthcoming cinematic Iron Man universe. You could do something that fits in closely (the Hellboy animated flicks) or loosely (Batman: Gotham Knight), but it would probably have been a wise plan.
No, Marvel wasn't interested in using the animation format to tell more stories about the version of the character that was about to be unleashed in a $100 million film. Granted, the filmmakers could not have known when they were making this movie how popular the feature film would be. Still, they surely had an idea of what was being created. Why not work with one of the filmmakers on creating a tie-in of some sort? Alas, it was not to be. Instead, we get a pointless new Iron Man origin story, one that makes Tony Stark/Iron Man seem very much like the B-level hero that he was before Robert Downey, Jr. and Jon Favreau re-energized him. Here, Tony is not witty or charming. He doesn't even seem particularly bright. He's simply chauvinistic and self-absorbed, voiced with banal lust by Marc Worden. The live-action film was able to work some interesting political and moral elements into Tony's origin that were quite compelling. Here, it's more along the lines of: "Hey, you know what? I want to be Iron Man. I think I'll become Iron Man. Yay for me." There is very little in the way of motivation or explanation. I expect superhero origin stories to be a little over-the-top, but I just don't buy this one at all.
The elemental villains here (fire, water, wind, and earth) are remarkably boring. We don't have a dynamic or memorable supervillain here, just a batch of semi-indistinguishable Chinese mythological forces. The film doesn't really do a good job of explaining who these "elementals" are (beyond their obvious abilities) or why we should care about them. The only thing that matters is that they have nifty powers, and Iron Man is going to have to fight them at some point. He spends the majority of the film's second half doing battle with these guys. The last ten minutes or so essentially turns into an animated recreation of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. True story.
The hi-def transfer is decent, but this film really doesn't have enough detail to make Blu-ray infinitely better than the DVD release. The animation is a little less terrific than one might hope. Sure, there are some nice individual frames, but motion isn't quite as fluid and smooth as in DC's animated efforts. Sound is solid enough, but often less aggressive than you would expect for an action-packed film like this. Guy Michelmore's score is okay; though it focuses on bland sound design a little more than I would prefer.
As for special features, the most important one here is a 12-minute featurette about the making of the film. It demonstrates how well-intentioned everyone involved was, which makes you wonder why it turned out so badly. We get a brief first look at several other Marvel animated projects, plus a photo gallery and a look at the "hall of armor." This is yet another area where Marvel's animated films don't compare well to DC's. While the DC animated films have been packed with special features, we get very little of substance here.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There's not really a lot to praise here. I will say that Pepper Potts (Elisa Gabrielli, Madagascar) is easily the most interesting character, as she brings some genuine wit and humor into all of her scenes. She still isn't nearly as compelling as Gwyneth Paltrow's take, but she outshines Tony & Rhodey by a considerable margin.
I hope that future Marvel animated efforts are better than this one. Unfortunately, the sneak peeks at Hulk vs. Thor and Hulk vs. Wolverine don't look promising. While I have great hope for the cinematic universe that Marvel is building, their animated line is a disappointment at the moment. This one is for die-hard Iron Man fans only.
Guilty. Will someone get this scrap iron out of the way, please?
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• "The Origin of Iron Man"
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