What we have here is a re-telling of the creation of the classic Marvel character Iron Man, who is now arguably one of the most popular heroes around thanks to the recent Iron Man live-action movie. Starring in The Invincible Iron Man, Tony Stark and his armored persona finally have a solo animated movie to call his own. And guess what? While it’s not a perfect movie, it’s still a pretty enjoyable. Now, let’s get the synopsis out of the way before moving on with the review, shall we?
In order to confront the destructive force, Tony creates an armored suit infused with high-tech weaponry. To stop the evil that he himself has raised from the earth, Tony must become his greatest invention ever – Iron Man! The newly born champion must travel to the four corners of the earth to battle the Mandarin’s henchmen, the Elementals’ four magical warriors who harness the power of the elements – earth, water, wind, and fire – with deadly chemistry. But is the Iron Knight, as he is known in the prophecy, strong enough to defy fate and turn back the malevolent forces hell-bent on earth’s destruction?
Before I continue, I just want to add that since this film was in production and released more than a year before the live-action Iron Man feature film, I won’t be comparing the two. To the creators behind the animated The Invincible Iron Man feature, it would simply not be fair. With that aside, let’s continue!
In short, The Invincible Iron Man is relatively well done with some great voice acting, a beautiful score, and some pretty superb action sequences. Was I blown away by it? No, not really. I was engaged in the film from the get-go, but found that some scenes dragged on a bit too long. The film goes back and forth between the more “adult” drama and action sequences without ever finding a good balance between them. I found they didn’t achieve this until the big climactic fight at the end (which I’ll get to in a little bit). It’s a good character study on Tony Stark, providing us with a full character arc and opening left for further adventures, which I would gladly welcome. In short, I do think Iron Man fans will be split down the middle, most enjoying the movie and others lets down at the major liberties the movie takes.
The movie re-presents his origins, updating it for a new generation of viewers. We watch Tony Stark go from self-absorbed, skirt chasing inventor millionaire to selfless hero in the span of eighty minutes. He’s given an updated origin as we see his humble beginnings in the Iron Man suit, both as a life-saving measure and as selfless superhero. With sidekick Rhodey by his side (sort of), he’s able to help save the day from magical warriors unleashed after he tries to raise an ancient Chinese city. Sounds good, right? It has an interesting plot, I’ll give it that, but it’s not the most original and, in trying to make this plot appear fresh and relevant, it does stumble a few times, namely with the film’s main villain and a supporting character, who shall remain nameless to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible.
Personally, I wasn’t too crazy about the Elementals being the first major battle for Iron Man, and I’m still not, though the initial skepticism and then “I can’t explain it” attitude from Tony does help the story. I would have preferred a more realistic and technology-based opponent, but pitting futuristic technology against ancient mysticism does provide a nice counter-balance for the movie, but it’s not exactly original. Granted, it does throw Iron Man completely out of his element (pun intended), forcing him to think on his feet and go up against something that his vast fortune can’t fix.
Facing off against the four creatures does get a bit repetitive, with each fight scene feeling a bit reminiscent of the one before. It’s not until the big showdown at the end that we really get something different. The movie does seem to struggle with trying to the balance the more down-to-earth business and terrorist subplots with the more mystical monster-fighting aspect the movie indulges in from time to time. I think a more grounded villain would have done wonders in providing an even tone for the movie. The more mindless action does provide a sense of relief from the heavy subplots, but it would have been great to have those action sequences boost the actual adult dilemmas in the feature.
As for the big climactic battle, it’s handed pretty well. Not only does Tony Stark have to do battle with these mystical forces, but another character (who I won’t mention to keep this review somewhat spoiler-free) is also thrown into the spotlight to fight a completely different battle. Many viewers will see the big twist at the end coming, but others should be pleasantly surprised with how it works. The big finale isn’t what I was expected, namely because Stark does seem to be somewhat pushed to the side here, but it still stays true to the story and presents a suitable conclusion. It’s not the ideal ending, but, well, this story isn’t exactly ideal either. Again, while I enjoyed the movie, it’s still probably Marvel Feature Animation’s most flawed film to date, and really could have used some reworking. While I liked some of the ideas presented, particularly when it came to Stark’s approach to his armor, others didn’t work quite so well, like the basically faceless enemies and somewhat tired “technology versus magic” drive.
The character designs, for the most part, seem to play it safe. They’re not edgy in any sense, nor bland. I will say that the design of Tony Stark himself isn’t the best. I prefer the design used in the Ultimate Avengers movies, as I thought that suited a modern take on the character better than the somewhat outdated pencil mustache and wavy hair. Still, the design, lifted straight from the comics, seems to give a classic touch to the character. The remaining supporting cast, such as Rhodey and Howard Stark, are direct translations of their comic book counterparts. The Mandarin, however, is given a massive makeover, coming off as more creepy than he ever has before.
Overall, I’d say this was a good, not great, movie. While not as good as Marvel’s Ultimate Avengers: The Movie, I found it better than Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther. The story is basically average, and it strives to be more, but, can’t quite reach it. The animation was a bit uneven, being great in some parts and sloppy in others. The mesh of 2D and 3D isn’t seamless, but there are some instances where it looks great, and others where it could have used some extra attention. Regardless, it’s still an entertaining movie even though it has more than a few flaws. I do want to note both the background paintings and the scores are remarkable for this feature, making the movie both look and sound gorgeous. It’s a welcome addition to the growing Marvel Animated Features library and comes Recommended for at least a rental, but shows that there are still some chinks in the armor that need to be worked out.
The Invincible Iron Man, which was previously released on DVD last year, has finally found a home on Blu-ray, just in time for the home video release of both Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow and the live-action Iron Man. The packaging is the standard Amaray blue-tinted clamshell, with inside interior art but no insert. The feature is given a pretty standard Blu-ray release, with a small collection of extra and a solid presentation.
The transfer for this Blu-ray release is great for the title, and a massive improvement over the error-laden transfer from the original DVD release of The Invincible Iron Man. The audio, which was great on the original DVD release, is great here, if not better. The DTS-HD Master Audio is just great, providing a solid and crisp sound to the movie. The video, well, the video is a major improvement over the original DVD release. While the original DVD release was mired with interlacing and compression, this one is a major step up from that, looking great on all fronts. The Invincible Iron Man has never looked so good here, with a crisp and pristine transfer that puts the previous DVD release transfer to shame. This is just a solid presentation and an obviously superb effort on part of Lionsgate Home Entertainment.
The Blu-ray extras are basically the same EPK-styled extras featured on the previous DVD release, save for a couple additional bonus features plugging an upcoming animated film. We get a nice featurette discussing the origins of the character and the movie, with the creative team explaining why they the movie’s particular direction, starting with the basics with the character and using a rather surprising approach for Stark’s main adversary. It’s not as thorough as I would like, but it right in line with the extras seen previously. Everyone from Craig Kyle to Joe Quesada share their two cents on the classic character and why they thought he was the perfect choice for an animated feature.
Also on tap are a couple galleries, one of Iron Man’s armor and another of model sheets and 3D characters. The armor gallery is a great treat for fans. We get a look at the various armors Iron Man has worn throughout his comic history, though it feels slightly incomplete. Where’s the Extremis armor? I may have overlooked it, but I saw nothing of his current armor or status anywhere in the gallery. The 3D models and character sheets give us a look at some of the behind the scenes production of the movie.
We round things off with a look at the alternate opening to the film, a bevy of trailers, and a preview for the upcoming Hulk Versus Wolverine and Hulk Versus Thor animated features.
Overall, it’s a fine disc, in terms of both the feature presentation and the bonus features. The movie itself looks great in High-Definition Blu-ray with probably the best audio/video transfer the movie has ever had. If you happen to be a fan of Iron Man, then picking up this release is a no-brainer. Again, the movie has more than a few problems, but, in the end, I found it enjoyable. If you’re on the fence, I’d say give a rental before opting to pay the full price. The extras are simply average for the release, but they do at least provide some nice production information to round out the standard EPK fluff. At the end of the day, I’d have to Recommend the Blu-ray release of The Invincible Iron Man. It’s a fun, if flawed, movie with a remarkable audio and video transfer, and deserves a spin.
The Invincible Iron Man on Blu-ray hits shelves September 2nd, 2008. The Invincible Iron Man is currently available on DVD.