Iron Man started the summer off with a bang and quickly found itself as one of the best reviewed super hero films of all time. It climbed the charts and remained the box office champ for months until the rest of the summer action flicks came along to finally displace its crown. With a domestic gross that will likely leave it stopping just shy of cracking the top twenty all-time, Iron Man proved to be a wise investment and a great start for Marvel Studios first feature film out of the gate. With the film still fresh in everyone’s minds, Iron Man is sure to sell through thousands of DVDs and Blu-ray’s pending its release on September 23rd.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is the world’s top weapons manufacturer, but when he’s captured and nearly killed by the same weapons his company makes, his perspective about his company changes. After escaping the clutches of the terrorists that captured him, Tony returns to his company to shut it down—but not without some resistance from his childhood mentor, Obadiah Smith (Jeff Bridges). In an attempt to eliminate some of his weapons from being used for evil, Stark designs and creates a suit that gives him the ability to stop those that oppose the side of good. Before Stark is able to ultimately succeed in his efforts, however, he must first confront Obadiah, who’s been working on a project of his own.
There are few films that can mix together action, script and superb actors with little effort, but Iron Man is definitely one of the higher ranking films out there in terms of what you get from it. I expected a B-level Marvel film in the same area as Daredevil (the director’s cut, mind you), but ended up something that may have very well eclipsed the Spider-Man trilogy in terms of what it accomplished. Not only did it keep you interested in what was going with the superb pacing, but the actors also made it all just such a pleasure to watch. I’ve rarely left the theater feeling such an incredible euphoria when it comes to superhero flicks; often I either get what I expected or am completely disappointed. In Iron Man’s case, I got everything I expected and so much more—which can all be attributed to the cast and crew who worked so diligently on it.
I think what works so well for the film is that it is genuinely believable. As fantastic as the Iron Man suit and high-tech as Tony Stark’s house are, it all seems like its possible and within our grasp in terms of technology. Of course the device that powers the suit is a bit out there, but they key to enjoying the film is getting into the character of Tony Stark and once you believe that he actually could make the suit, the rest of the film is really just all that much more enveloping. I have to hand it to director Jon Favreau for mapping the story out the way he did—starting the film off with the hero immediately in danger really set the tone for the rest of the film.
As fantastic as the film was, I felt it was lacking in one vital area: the villain. While we got some villains early on in the film with the Ten Rings terrorist organization that captured Tony Stark, they weren’t really something that could go up against Stark in full Iron Man gear. So what we ended up with was Obadiah in his own suit and while it made for a fantastic final fight (even if it was a bit like Transformers wailing on each other), I never really believed Obadiah as the big villain. To be completely honest his character always just came off as more of a jerk to me than anything; I understand he’s from the characters and so is the suit and I’m not knocking Bridges performance any, he just didn’t seem like “ultimate villain” material to me. Not a huge deterrent for seeing the film, but unlike most super hero films where we see the hero meet his equal, you just don’t get that feeling from Iron Man.
While the film lacks in the villain department, the rest of the characters all shine. I could write pages on Downey Jr.’s performance and as if the man wasn’t already quickly becoming one of my favorite actors, his portrayal as Tony Stark here was just absolutely perfect. You believed him every minute and the chemistry he had with Gwyneth Paltrow, who plays Pepper Potts, is fantastic as well. In addition to having one of the coolest names a personal assistance has ever had, Potts compliments Stark’s character in a way I’ve never really seen in film before. It’s a rather refreshing relationship the two have, as while there is some romance between them, it’s always of the more playful variety. I guess you could liken it to what Bond and Moneypenny had, just on a larger scale. In addition, Terrance Howard as James Rhodes also did a fantastic job and I’m looking forward to him donning the War Machine armor in a future installment.
My main concern with the film is how a sequel will take place. After watching the extras on the set, it’s clear to me that while an awesome superhero, Iron Man’s rogues gallery is quite lacking. They might be better off actually coming up with new villains for the character, as the ones he has already just seems like they’d be no match for his suit. I’ve no doubt they’ll likely use The Mandarin in the next one, so here’s hoping they change him up a bit so he’s a little bit more intimidating when standing next to the bad-ass known as Iron Man.
While this film was in the running for best-of-summer, another film came along that dethroned it from the top spot. But considering Iron Man jumpstarted the summer and had to share a theater with a brand-new Indiana Jones and eventually make way for The Dark Knight, the film was in good company all the while it ripped up the box office and I’m eagerly anticipating the sequel to this film. Easily my favorite of the Marvel films to date, Iron Man comes Highly Recommended.
Releasing in single and two-disc DVD as well as two-disc Blu-ray, Iron Man is sure to be Paramount’s big holiday title, even if it is arriving a few months early. Although I’m sure they have more films prepping for the Christmas rush (I imagine Tropic Thunder may make a late December appearance, although that is pure speculation on my part and is no way based on any murmurings), it’s clear that they want Iron Man to do gangbusters and judging by how much was packed onto this two-disc edition, it’s easy to see that they did their best to accomplish this task. The Blu-ray release comes packed inside a two-disc Elite Blu-ray case that has a slipcover that reveals different art underneath (a rarity), with Tony Stark on the front cover and perhaps one of the coolest shots of Iron Man in existence on the back. Inside we get an insert advertising the BD-Live functions as well as a note to keep your players firmware updated. Disc art for the two discs inside is a plain grey with white lettering. Kind of unimpressive when everything else is taken into account, but the discs will be inside your player for the most part anyway.
Menus for both discs are the same and are really well done. They don’t really take full advantage of the Blu-ray format in any particular way, but there are some animations and the full CGI model of Iron Man “playing” with the menu layouts as you change options is very cool to look at. Plus, they’re easy to navigate, so there are no really convoluted steps to go through to get this thing to work right.
And now the reason we buy the Blu-ray format: the audio and video. After being astonished by Paramounts Transformers released, I half expected Iron Man to eclipse it, but sadly this was not the case. While the AVC encoded transfer is absolutely nothing to turn your nose up at, it just doesn’t impress the way Transformers did, although there are still some nice moments of detail to be had. The desert scenes look great and the aerial battle between Iron Man and the Viper pilots is fantastic, but despite these two standing out, occasionally there is a bit of detail loss in the close-up sequences. In particular I found the final frames of the film, when it closes up on Downey’s face as he says “I am Iron Man” (which, I forgot to mention, is an absolutely brilliant ending to a superhero film), to be rather smoothed over. The film still looked fantastic, but it does let one down a bit in terms of being crystal clear and filled with detail the whole way through.
On the audio side of things we have a strong 5.1 TrueHD mix which, once again, doesn’t eclipse the Transformers release, so don’t go upgrading this release to your “reference quality” disc when showing off your setup to friends and family. Although a powerful soundtrack in its own right, it honestly doesn’t boast much oomph, especially during the later battles in the film. While the escape with the Mark 1 suit shakes the house (and in one instance, nearly blew my subwoofer out as he came pounding out of the cave entrance), by the time the Mark 3 comes into play it just doesn’t seem as potent. Granted there are still some great moments where you can really feel the action, the end battle just seemed to underwhelm me. While the bass was light in the later half, the surrounds were constantly seeing action, with stray bullets and sound effects being tossed about like dust in the wind. Again, while it won’t beat Transformers in that respect, it still will bring the film to life and make it one of the most enjoyable home theater experiences of the year.
Extras? Not a problem, this release has them in spades. On the first disc we have our first taste of what the set will offer us in terms of bonuses to feast our eyes on, with the first round being in the “Hall of Armor” area. This area shows off all of the suits used in the film in full detail, with specific areas profiled and full 360 reviews included. This may not sound very cool, but trust me—seeing the suits up this close and personal with the amount of detail on them is really quite neat to see. While they look a bit “glossy” in finish, these very well could be the actual CGI models used in the film—there’s nothing to say otherwise, so I’ll go with that. It should be noted that as of this writing, the BD-Live extras are not enabled for this release.
All of the extras presented on this set are in high definition, so expect to get the most out of your fancy new TV when watching these extras. While the detail isn’t as high as the film, the fact they’re even in HD is good enough for me. First up on the video extras front are the “Deleted/Extended Scenes” (23:57, 11 total). There are some really good scenes that were removed from the film, but due to plot changes they had to be chucked completely. Most of the extras here are fully finished, although a few still feature temp SF/X. Finally on the first disc we have “The Invincible Iron Man” (47:05), a documentary about the history of the character in comics, where we hear from the many artists and writers who have worked on the book over the years. While I usually find these documentaries a lot of fun to watch, I was honestly quite bored while watching this. I guess I just don’t find Iron Man’s history in comics as interesting as this film, as all of the writers seemed to touch upon the same thing about the character and when it actually came time for the discussion of his villains, one writer even suggested that Dr. Doom (of the Fantastic Four) was more of an equal to Iron Man than any of his real villains. There was also some weird pieces where the comic book maquettes behind one of the men interviewed was blurred out; I’m guessing Paramount didn’t have permission to show the characters likenesses, although I can’t be sure who they were exactly (one was at least Mr. Fantastic, I believe). It actually makes the documentary a bit lewd feeling with these giant pixel blocks poking up behind the man being interviewed.
Moving onto disc two, we get the crown jewel of the set: the seven part “I Am Iron Man” (1:49:01) documentary. Running nearly two hours, this documentary shows off every step of the production process, right from getting started, to the design and construction of the suits, to the day the film premiered. It’s certainly an exhaustive documentary and includes plenty of commentary from cast and crew, as well as plenty of input from director Jon Favreau. Each of the films main actors show up as well, so there’s no shortage of opinions and input being provided. “Wired: The Visual Effects of Iron Man” (27:02) follows the documentary with an even deeper look into the special effects and CGI done in the film. It’s actually quite surprising how much this film was still being worked on only a few months before it was released.
“Robert Downey Jr. Screen Test” (6:04) shows off Downey Jr. acting out a few scenes in the film, while “The Actor’s Process” (4:13) has Downey Jr. and Bridges going through the motions of one of their scenes together. Finishing up the video front is “The Onion ‘Wildly popular Iron Man Trailer being Adapted into a Film'” (2:38) video, which is incredibly funny. Gotta love The Onion. A mixture of theatrical trailers (Teaser, Trailer, International B, International C) and photo galleries (concept art, tech, unit photography, posters) round out the extras on this second disc of the set.
As much as I love the extras on this set and as thorough as they were, I honestly hoped for a commentary or some other extra that was a bit retrospective in nature. With the seven part documentary wrapping up with Favreau so concerned about how the film was going to be received, it would have been nice to get a sense of closure on the whole thing. Recently (very recently, as in just earlier this week on 9/8), Downey and Favreau recorded a “live commentary” with an audience in Santa Monica, so here’s hoping that somehow makes it onto a release somewhere at some point. Hell, including it on the BD-Live area would be awesome as well, then we wouldn’t have to buy a new release.
In any case, the extras for this release as is are quite hefty and will take awhile to get through. I can’t recommend the comic book one as your first viewing, however…it really did just bore me more than anything, but the seven part “I Am Iron Man” documentary is definitely worth checking out if you enjoyed the film. Highly Recommended.
Iron Man: Ultimate 2-Disc Edition arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on September 30th.