Iron Man Review
Wisely, Iron Man begins with lots of its prime asset. Tony Stark charms the birds from the trees and the soldiers around him out of their decorum into open admirers. They love him because he is clearly living the life, and any film that starts with such happy excess has to become derailed quickly before we find our hero too smug, too clever, and too rich to engage our sympathy. So Stark is blown ass over tit by his own weapons and shrapnel flies into his most vital, if unused, organ, his heart.
It's an extremely good beginning which is then followed by fifteen minutes of further exposition to fully put this swinging arms dealer into perspective. On first viewing it, this exposition seems to impede the films momentum and it's really not the same spectacle again until we rejoin Stark in his cave jail, captive to an Osama-a-like who wants this genius to give him the military edge in the war on terror. Back in peril, after the interruption of his earlier highlife, the sexy careless millionaire learns the facts of his wicked life and fashions an escape that the A-Team, even on their best day, could barely equal from a few rocks and some sticky back titanium.
Now redeemed by his insight into war Good Tony returns, and soon he is using the idea of the steel suit that got him his freedom to right wrongs and protect the little people from the shady dealings of his own multinational corporation. Good Tony find his heart literally and figuratively, and he changes from a playboy entrepreneur into a one woman man and a caring capitalist.
The boasting of the introductory weapons test, that of America the great protector of freedom, is therefore replaced by the efforts of a man who can use his power to vanquish the terrorists. Stark is, in many ways, a walking talking summation of a superpower forced into humility by the havoc it's superior and arrogant actions have wreaked. Stark the hegemonist warmonger becomes Stark the protector of the innocent, fighting terrorists abroad and capitalism gone too far at home. To use a current presidential analogy, you might see Good Tony as a fan of "caring and sharing" Obama and Bad Tony as the evangelist of the Bush doctrine of "shock and awe".
Or much more likely, it's a comic book movie trying to be a bit fruity! A blockbuster that comes down to a fight between mechanised men, with rent an Arab terrorists and Gwyneth Paltrow reduced to simpering lines like "I know a short cut". Iron Man, in its own market, counts as superior fare largely due to an excellent cast and CGI effects which don't drop the ball. Jeff Bridges is a rather fitting baddie as an elderly child of both the profit motive and the H-Bomb. Terrence Howard is a black best friend with as much warmth and intelligence as could be expected in such an off the rack role, but better than the explosions, the fruity politics, and the cool stuff like flying, this film has Tony Stark.
Now the man playing Stark, Downey Jr, can always be an overbalancing element in a cast. He has been rarely trusted in leading roles because of his wild past, and consequently he has found himself in flashy cameos and independent curios. Here, in a candy floss, bubblegum role fronting a merchandising opportunity, he does all he can to make you forget the weak dialogue by giving us a complete charmer with a straightforward and believable character arc. It sure ain't Shakespeare and there is a good ten minutes too much of the opening exposition, but the 90% of the movie we spend with Stark is a hoot. As Downey Jr is enjoying himself and it looks like fun, I feel that the audience will end up doing the same.
Because of some independent sensibility and Downey seizing his leading chance, Iron Man ain't bad at all. It's not as clever as some have claimed but it is a very acceptable comic book adaptation, a blockbuster with some real dramatic and comedic quality.
Transfer and Sound
If you take a look at Kevin's standard def review in the side panel, you'll see his concerns over edge enhancement there and I can report that the Blu-ray does not suffer from this fault, or the softness he complained of in that review. The transfer for the main feature is a decent sized 30.7 GB encoded in AVC/MPEG4 fashion and image is very sharp and pleasing to the eye. Detail when viewing faces seems okay if not excellent, and there seems to be little if no DNR involved here. The contrast is impeccable, the colour balance seems very true and, bar a little aliasing, this is a very strong Blu-ray visual presentation.
The audio options are somewhat shortened with the single inclusion of a TrueHD 5.1 track which downmixes to stereo on my system. I can't then report on it's surround qualities but I can say that it has plenty of drive in the bass and significant definition throughout the mix. I watched the film using headphones so the downmix was less of an issue but I would imagine that sounds rather special heard in proper 5.1 from my experience of the thumping soundtrack.
Discs and Special Features
This is a two disc set with the film coming on a BD 50 filled up to 43.8GB and a second disc of extras totalling a further 22.1 GB, in addition BD-Live extras can be accessed if you have an enabled player(this function would not work on my Panasonic). The bounty of extras seems very similar to the excellent run-down that we gave in our review of the standard def release, with possibly a few extra there such as the animation, and I point you to Kev's review for more detail than I will give on the duplicated extras here.
A word on the menus, which take a bit of loading, they are truly wonderful animations of the Iron Man suit accompanied by soundtrack music. They take a little time to navigate but this is forgiveable given the care taken to create them. On Disc One, further animation is offered in the Hall Of Armor which looks at the four mechanised suits on display in the film allowing close ups of individual parts with written commentary, and the ability to see the parts in 360 degrees. For less of a comic book fan, this may prove a little underwhelming but those intrigued by such detail will get their fill here.
Next up on the first disc is a documentary on Iron Man and Marvel, following the character as he develops over a number of incarnations. Stan Lee and various artists contribute and we learn about how Tony Stark became Iron Man during the Vietnam war, and the relationship with other comic book heroes that evolved into the Avengers. Not being a geek on this, my fascination was with the pixelated toy figures behind some of the interviewees that were being obscured for copyright reasons. Business is business!
The deleted and extended scenes are a mixed bag with many of them clearly slowing down the flow of the movie but some adding interesting depth to the conclusion for instance.
Disc Two is where you will find the making of documentary. Again, there is more information here than you will ever need as we follow Jon Favreau from pre-production to the picture's release. Cast and crew contribute and you can catch a snippet from the great and sadly late Stan Winston on his studios contribution to the film. Interestingly, the film was not audience tested in order to keep secrets from leaking out before release. There is a part of me, that wonders about two hour long films about making two hour long films but I guess the point is enjoy it if you want to, and because this can be watched in segments I suppose people like me are catered for along with fanboys.
Wired is a visual effects featurette featuring contributions from the three companies who did the CGI on the film. It's good to hear the director say that he doesn't like CGI per se as I think this wariness helps the film itself to use the effects well.
A couple of short features catch Downey's screentest, and him, Bridges, and Favreau preparing a scene before shooting. These clips highlight the development of the script as some of RD's lines are plain awful and have been rewritten before shooting. Three trailers in 5.1 are presented in a reel and the whole package is finished off by a labyrinthine set of galleries featuring concept art, technical issues, posters and photos. The galleries are split down through so many sub options that you may get a little tired of all the effort it takes to see a simple poster.
A fine transfer of a surprisingly good blockbuster, is packaged up beautifully with more extras than a casual fan might like but that obsessives will want to lock themselves away with for days.