|The Invincible Iron Man (2007)
Starring: Marc Worden, Gwendoline Yeo, Fred Tatasciore, Rodney Saulsberry, Elisa Gabrielli, John McCook
Director: Frank Paur
When it comes to live-action motion pictures based on their superheroes, it’s fair to say that Marvel Comics kicks DC Comics’ ass, if only because Marvel is so much more prolific. If you look at two companies’ track records over the last ten years, here’s how things stack up:
Marvel: “Blade"/“Blade II”/“Blade: Trinity,” “X-Men”/“X2: X-Men United”/“X-Men: The Last Stand,” “Spider-Man”/“Spider-Man 2,” “Daredevil,” “Hulk,” “The Punisher,” “Elektra,” and “Fantastic Four.”
DC: “Catwoman,” “Batman Begins,” and “Superman Returns.”
Wow, that’s embarrassing.
Not content to rest on its laurels, Marvel’s continued to maintain its advantage by building an all-new market with a series of straight-to-video animated features. It began with two films based on the long-running series “The Avengers,” and continues here with “The Invincible Iron Man,” who – coincidentally – is a member of the Avengers.
You might think I’m being facetious by suggesting that it’s coincidence, but, in this case, it really is; the reason for an “Iron Man” animated feature is almost certainly to build momentum for the upcoming live-action “Iron Man” film, directed by Jon Favreau and starring Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, and Terrence Howard. Unfortunately, “The Invincible Iron Man” is likely to leave viewers saying, “Geez, y’know, I was interested in seeing the live-action movie…but, man, I sure hope it’s better than this is.”
“The Invincible Iron Man” gives us the opportunity to learn the hero’s secret origin and discover how billionaire industrialist Tony Stark came to put on a suit of armor and become Iron Man in the first place, but be forewarned, comics fans: it’s been dramatically rewritten from the original source material. Okay, you can kind of see why they changed the locale from Vietnam to China, especially since it provides an opportunity to tie Iron Man’s origin to one of his longtime villains, the Mandarin – but originally, Tony Stark’s parents were killed in a car accident, leaving him to inherit their company, Stark Industries, when he turned 21; here, Tony’s father – Howard – is alive, well, and still a part of the company. His ongoing existence adds nothing to the plot but unnecessary melodrama and schmaltz; by the end of the film, we’re a hairsbreadth away from an “I love you, son”/“I love you, Dad” exchange.
The characterization of Tony Stark as a billionaire playboy lasts for maybe five minutes; when we first meet him, he’s sitting in a hot tub with a hot redhead, and then we get a scene in the boardroom, where he gets no love from either his father or the board of directors. After his longtime friend and co-worker, Jim “Rhodey” Rhodes, goes MIA in China while on a project to raise a 3,000-year-old city, Tony quickly straightens up and flies right over to find him; unfortunately, Tony ends up getting wounded in the process – his heart is badly damaged – and finds himself right next to Rhodey, with their captors demanding that they place the city right back where they found it and foolishly allowing them access to their technology to perform the deed. Between the two of them, they design a suit of armor, which Tony dons in order for them to escape…but since he’s fallen in love with one of his captors – the lovely Li Mei, whose destiny is inextricably linked to that of the Mandarin – it’s a given that he’ll return sooner than later.
There are a lot of problems with “The Invincible Iron Man.” Sometimes, it’s the introduction of subplots that are abandoned (the damage to Tony’s heart, supposedly so life-threatening, is never mentioned again after their escape); other times it’s the convenient change in characterization to fit the plot. The biggest issue, though, is that, for a film with such beautiful designs, everything feels like a rough sketch rather than a finished product. It’s like they randomly picked elements from the “Iron Man” mythos and tried to make a movie out of them, without knowing anything about the character. The result is a film that looks nice – the combination of computer animation and Manga-inspired designs works surprisingly well – but doesn’t add up to much.DVD Review:
There are a few featurettes, including enthusiastic interviews from the team who created the film, along with concept art, a Hall of Armor (which shows the various looks that Iron Man has had over the years), and an alternate opening scene. There’s also a sneak preview of Marvel’s next animated feature, “Doctor Strange,” but the sequence offered up for viewing – the first scene of the film – doesn’t give us so much as a glimpse of the title character in his full regalia. Still, what we do see will make you optimistic that Marvel might get some redemption from the disappointment of this film.