- Frank Paur
- Marc Worden, Rodney Saulsberry, Gwendoline Yeo, Elisa Gabrielli
- 83 min.
- Release Date
Perhaps it’s the purist in me, but The Invincible Iron Man, released as a direct-to-DVD animated feature in 2006, lacks any of the magic purported by its 2008 live-action better. Following Marvel Comics’ “Ultimate” storylines, the movie attempts a modern origin reinvention wholly separate from the established mythology that’s proved characters Tony Stark and Iron Man successful for forty-five years. And while I’m not opposed to reinvention, particularly not the sort that inspired Batman Begins or The Incredible Hulk, diverting from the source so much that no resemblance remains feels counterproductive.
The story begins in China, where James “Rhodey” Rhodes (voice of Rodney Saulsberry) leads a Stark Enterprises-funded excavation to raise an ancient city from the ground. Locals, namely the Jade Dragons gang, believe hoisting the city will fulfill a deathly prophesy marking the return of the Mandarin, an evil emperor from ancient China (no doubt modeled after China’s first ruling emperor Qin Shi Huangdi). Unable to sabotage the lift effort, Jade Dragons kidnap Rhodes as bait for young billionaire Tony Stark (voice of Marc Worden), an impetuous playboy recently dejected from his father’s company by a frustrated board of directors. When Stark arrives in China to rescue his friend, he’s attacked and critically wounded, requiring Rhodes to make an involved machine to save him.
Building a war-machine suit of armor, Stark escapes with Rhodes, only to find he must defeat four Elemental beings that were released to find Mandarin’s rings of power. Once the rings are gathered, Mandarin will be freed and all hell would break loose in the way comic book villains always threaten but never accomplish. Same deal here. Jade Dragon member Li Mei (voice of Gwendoline Yeo), daughter to the group’s chief, tells Stark to stay away, even in his Iron Man costume. And perhaps he should listen, since his involvement in this international fiasco has placed covert government agency S.H.I.E.L.D. on his tail, not to mention those colossal Elementals.
Inside Marvel’s original continuity, Tony Stark was an alcoholic magnate living in the shadow of his universally loved but deceased father. Writer Greg Johnson gets the magnate part right, but that’s about it. Here Stark, and indeed every other character, is written with dehydrating blandness. Mandarin, Iron Man’s Joker-to-Batman equivalent, appears for an unbelievably brief thirty-seconds in the finale and then fades away, marking the final disappointment in an already blah home video viewing experience.
My oft-reiterated stance on animation is that the product should be limitless, visiting worlds or portraying events impossible for live-action filmmaking. Otherwise, what’s the point of choosing animation? Since an animated film can represent anything under a relatively standard budget, depicting anything less than the fantastical seems like a waste. Under the thumb of mediocre animation, the film’s grandiose storyline offers limited scope, feeling rather small and pathetic in comparison to Marvel’s previous animated features. In Ultimate Avengers and Ultimate Avengers 2, Marvel’s first independently-produced ventures (though direct-to-DVD) released in February and August of 2006 respectively, the animation is sub-par but watchable. Here pixilated, computer-animated figures move inelegantly over traditional-animation backgrounds. The effect recalls a cheaper, lazily conceived version of The Iron Giant by director Brad Bird (Ratatouille, The Incredibles), except without all that brilliance…
Marvel went to great effort to advertise its first independently-produced features—these direct-to-DVD superhero movies—as PG-13 rated. The implication, of course, is that Marvel has moved beyond kid’s stuff and into more adult storytelling. As admirable a goal as that may be, The Invincible Iron Man misses an opportunity to tell a story of massive scope, and since the coming of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, it should be altogether forgotten for its comparative faults.