Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Armored Knight Takes Flight Today!

Marvel Comics introduced playboy Tony Stark back in the 1960s. Every comic buff worth his salt knows the story. Stark was in Vietnam surveying some of the weapons he’d invented while they were in action. While there, he tripped a trap and got blown up. When he recovered, he was in enemy hands and had shrapnel dangerously close to his heart. He and another prisoner, Yin Sen, invented the gray suit of armor that Stark for wore into battle against the Vietnamese warlord.

Iron Man is one of my favorite characters. He’s had a troubled life, constant women problems (some who were lovers who became enemies, and some enemies who became lovers), a severe bout of alcoholism, and (in one of the most confusing bits of retconning ever) turned back into his teenage self.

Lions Gate Home Entertainment paired up with Marvel Comics for what is apparently going to be a four-movie deal, with all of the product being released as straight-to-DVD animated movies. The first two were Ultimate Avengers and Ultimate Avengers 2. Doctor Strange is currently in production.

If Iron Man’s original origin had been kept, he would be in his sixties at least by now. Marvel Comics dropped the Vietnamese connection as they retconned the character so that he could stay at a perky age.

The Invincible Iron Man starts over from scratch, keeping much of the Tony Stark character in place. He’s still a rich playboy with a keen inventor’s mind. But he’s remiss in his responsibilities to work outside of inventing and in his friendships. The Lions Gate film also presents the character of Jim Rhodes. “Rhodey,” as he’s known, went on later to become a more militant version of Iron Man known as War Machine. The pairing works well on the screen and gives Tony someone to play off of.

With the announcement of the live-action Iron Man movie coming out in 2008, I’d really expected Lions Gate to go all out on their animated feature since it would get a lot of push from the other movie. I’d figured that Iron Man would square off against one of his technologically advanced enemies – perhaps the Crimson Dynamo, or Stane, or even a military-based foe created expressly for the movie.

I wasn’t expecting the Mandarin, but once I wrapped my head around the idea, I thought it was pretty cool. The Mandarin was one of Iron man’s principal enemies from the comic series. Weirdly enough, and I’m really interested to see how this pans out, Jon Favreau’s live-action Iron Man movie is also going to feature the Mandarin as the villain. Fans are going to get their choice of treatments it seems.

The original Mandarin was supposedly a descendant of Genghis Khan. He discovered ten technologically advanced rings in a crashed alien spacecraft. The rings gave him tremendous powers, based on Makluan science. In The Invincible Iron Man, the Mandarin’s rings are powered through magic.

I loved the interface at the beginning of the movie that showed all the gears working together. It looked very cool, very high-tech, and it got me properly primed for the viewing experience.

The story opens up in China. Jim Rhodes is working at a dig site where Stark Enterprises is trying to raise an ancient sunken city before an underground river destroys it. The dig crew’s efforts are plagued by a band of desperate men who call themselves the Jade Dragons.

I have to admit, I wanted a different beginning. I wanted to see Stark in the suit, blowing through action sequences for a while, then remembering how it all began in a flashback or simply covering the origin in a bit of conversation.

Still, the opening sequence captures the viewer’s attention satisfactorily and moves along at a quick clip. After we meet Rhodes, see some appropriately cool science stuff involved in raising the sunken city, we also meet Li Mei, the daughter of an important member of the Jade Dragons. China has a history of being hard on women, and that’s definitely shown here as Li Mei gets harassed.

An attack on Rhodes’s supplies leaves the dig site crippled again. Stark finally gives in and decides to go there to see if he can straighten things out. While he’s in China he barely survives an attack that leaves him in medically bad shape. He and Rhodes have to build a device that will keep his weakened heart beating.

They also build the first Iron Man suit: the clunky gray suit that still make my heart beat a little faster every time I see it. The scenes where Iron Man steps out of the shadows to confront the abusive guards is really well done. Iron Man looks creepy and menacing when seen in this light, and the sequence is played out for everything it’s worth.

Stark and Rhodes quickly make their escape and return to the United States. When they arrive, they find S.H.I.E.L.D. agents waiting to take them into custody. Stark and Rhodes break free and run for it.

Later, they arrive at the secret base Stark has built to house his Iron Man project (though it’s never mentioned by name in the movie that I could remember). Nowhere throughout the film is the name “Iron Man” even mentioned. In the comic book series, Stark maintained his secret identity by claiming that Iron Man was his personal bodyguard.

In short order, Stark learns that raising the city also free four Elementals (earth, wind, water, and fire). They’re seeking the Mandarin’s five rings (and it was really weird to think there were only five rings – one of them a bracelet, even) instead of ten.

One of the best things the animated film did was feature several of Stark’s Iron Man suits. It was fascinating to see how the writer, director, producer got around having an “origin” story while having Stark in possession of several dozen sets of armor.

The fight in the deep-dive armor was awesome. I can still remember when that golden suit was introduced in the monthly comic. The action in this sequence gets the viewer totally involved.

The action was the highlight of the movie. It didn’t significantly start up until the middle of the movie, which is a tad bit too long for those of us hanging out at the theater to see Iron Man come to the big screen. After that, the action moves along at a brisk pace, but there’s little emotional involvement required by the rest of the move.

The Mandarin was off-screen far too much to make it as a powerful villain in the movie. Li Mei’s attraction for Stark seemed to come out of left field. I don’t even know what language they would have been speaking. There was no mention that Li Mei knew English, or that Stark knew Chinese. Also, there were a number of spots where there was no dialogue and the lack became noticeable.

Overall, The Invincible Iron Man is another fine production by Lions Gate Home Entertainment. It will sit nicely on the shelves with the other animated movies about the Ultimate Avengers. The movie is a definite buy for the comics geeks out there, and is recommended for the kiddos – except there are some scenes with masked nudity some parents might question. This movie would be a treat on family night when everyone wants some light entertainment.

1 comment:

Ron Simpson said...

I bought this and liked it. I wanted it to last longer. I hope it leads to a regular tv series.