The Invincible Iron Man Review
Once upon a time, he was imprisoned in Vietnam while on a business trip to promote the use of mini-transistors and pressed into building weapons to aid the Vietnamese war effort but with only a handful of people knowing what transistors are these days, Tony Stark is now a billionaire industrialist who is financing the excavation of an ancient Chinese ruin. As is the way with such things, Stark runs into trouble with the locals, some of whom warn him of a great danger that lurks in the Mandarin Temple. That they do so by kidnapping his site supervisor James Rhodes does not endear them or their motives to Stark who carries on in spite of their warnings. Too late! As Stark is also kidnapped, during which he sustains a near-fatal injury, the excavation work carries on but releases four Elementals. Building a suit of iron - hence, the Iron Man - Stark must battle the Elementals, who have taken a very personal interest in a young woman that Stark must save, even when she is being used as a weapon against him, as a means to resurrect the Mandarin...
If there's any greater illustration of the difference between real life and comics than the actions of billionaire industrialists, I've yet to see or read it. Of course, there's the flying, being able to walk up walls, stretch and become invisible but believing in those superpowers is merely an act of going halfway with a comic book. In real life, Donald Trump's ambitions for an enormous golfing resort in Aberdeenshire are thwarted by the obstinate refusal of a fisherman to leave the ramshackle house where he, his father and grandfather all lived before him. In the adventures of The Wiry Barnet, his heroic alter ego, Trump would wreak vengeance on the small croft, toss the fisherman into the waters of the North Sea and would not only build his vast golfing complex but would also avert a disaster on an offshore oil rig and reverse the decline of fish stocks.
Not so in Invincible Iron Man, in which billionaire industrialist Tony Stark, as well as doing all of the things that billionaire industrialists have to do on a daily basis - stock reports, takeovers, raiding of pension plans - also builds an iron suit to battle not only the religious zealots that threaten his excavation of the Mandarin's Temple but the Elementals themselves as they arise from the dust of the site. When this happens, Invincible Iron Man is as exciting as any other Saturday-morning cartoon, much like Spider-Man battling the Green Goblin or The Thing and The Hulk leaving a trail of destruction across several countries in the Fantastic Four. Or, as is more the case, the Power Rangers fighting an enormous but very evil villain that has beamed in from space and is currently stomping his way across several hundred acres of downtown Tokyo. Like the Power Rangers, there's never any good reason why the Elementals appear, why they are so dreadful and what exactly their plans are other than that they appear to involve the destruction of stuff. They could be compared to the Titans that appear at the end of Disney's Hercules but at least there we knew what they were about. Having watching Invincible Iron Man a couple of times for this review, I'm none the clearer.
As such, Invincible Iron Man, much like I said for Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer, will offer the kind of explosive thrills much-loved by six- and seven-year-old boys. However, thanks to what the BBFC describe as moderate violence, the film has been rated a 12. Well, there is a small amount of violence in the film but perhaps the greater problem that potential viewers, or the parents of the same, will have with Invincible Iron Man is the slight amount of nudity that is present in the film, something that is highlighted in comments on the IMDB and elsewhere. It is the case that the film has Tony Stark enjoying himself (and the company of a young ladyfriend) in a hot tub and Li Mei spends all of the last act in the nude, possessed by the spirit of the Mandarin and wreaking the kind of havoc that only happens in cartoons. However, her modesty is protected by a coating of mud that covers all the areas of her body that young boys might get all hot and bothered about, leaving it no more revealing than the very mild sex of the early Bond films when L-shaped sheets were all the rage and, "Oh, James!" could be taken to mean many things.
However, whether or not the interest of such a young audience will be sustained through a rather dull first act is another matter. They are, though, the only ones who will buy the grand reveal of Tony Stark building the first Iron Man suit only, mere minutes later, to discover that he has a room full to bursting with them. And, of course, that a billionaire industrialist is capable of doing anything of the sort. Only in the cartoons!
Invincible Iron Man is a mix of CG and traditional animation but unlike more recent examples, where it is genuinely hard to spot what is CG and what is not, this takes viewers back to the days of Treasure Planet when it should be obvious, even to the most oblivious of viewers, what has been hand-drawn and what has been rendered by computer. The human characters, backgrounds and many of the visual effects are all hand-drawn but the Elementals, the evil Mandarin and Iron Man himself are CG and clearly so. The animation itself is no great shakes, being, like the story, really no better than Saturday morning cartoons but it's bright, flashy and filled with such a number of explosions, bright lights and monsters as to keep young viewers happy. The actual DVD handles all of this fairly well. Both the hand-drawn and CG animation is sharp and clear, the picture is as bright and colourful as one would expect of a cartoon and with it being such a short film, the film is well-encoded with a good bitrate throughout. The DD5.1 is a by-the-numbers audio track, sounding fine but lacking very much action in the rear channels. However, being an animated feature, the soundtrack via voiceover and audio effects are clear, with the film achieving a careful balance of action against the need to tell the story via dialogue. Finally, there are English subtitles, both standard and for the hard of hearing.
Keeping with the notion that this won't have much of either an adult or a dedicated following, the bonus features are slight. An Alternative Opening Sequence (3m11s) does a much better job of explaining the background of the Mandarin than anything in the actual film while the Iron Man Concept Art (2m58s) reveals the history and current design of the Iron Man suit. The Origin Of Iron Man (11m55s) isn't really anything of the sort, being more a look behind the scenes at the making of this film while A Look At Dr Strange (7m03s) is merely a means to promote Marvel's next animated film. The best extra is The Iron Man Armour Gallery, a set of stills and onscreen text that catalogue the various suits of armour worn by Iron Man since his first appearance in the comic books. Beginning with the Original Grey Armour, this is full of things like exoskeleton, miniaturised components, repulsor rays and laser beams, this is just the thing for a comic book geek to spend five or ten minutes.