by Mel Valentin
Directed by Frank Paur ("Ultimate Avengers," "Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther," "X-Men: Evolution," "Batman: The Animated Series") and written by Greg Johnson ("X-Men: Evolution," the forthcoming "Doctor Strange"), "The Invincible Iron Man" (a/k/a "Iron Man: Before the Goatee"), is the latest straight-to-DVD animated feature from Marvel Animation Studios. "The Invincible Iron Man" centers on billionaire industrialist/genius inventor/military contractor Tony Stark and his superpowered alter ego, Iron Man. Unfortunately, "The Invincible Iron Man" awkwardly combines 2D animation and computer generated animation with a dull, unengaging origin story that haphazardly mixes science-based superheroics and Chinese mysticism (more accurately, stereotypical Chinese mysticism).Stan "The Man" Lee, along with his brother Larry Leiber, Don Heck, and Jack Kirby created Tony Stark/Iron Man. Iron Man debuted in the March, 1963 issue of Tales of Suspense (No. 39) in a bulky grey armor straight out of a 1950s sci-fi/B-movie. One issue later, the armor's color was changed from grey to gold. Eight issues later, artist Steve Ditko redesigned Iron Man's armor into the more familiar red and gold. Iron Man's armor gave him superstrength, made him near invulnerable, gave him flight, and concussive power blasts. Over the next four decades, Stark came up with a variety of context-specific armors, e.g., underwater, volcanic, radiation, magnetic, and bigger, better, and bulkier (the War Machine armor). Each time, though, Stark has reverted back to the traditional red-and-gold armor.
"A middling effort from a fledging animation studio."
The latest iteration of the Iron Man mythos introduces a thirty-something, womanizing Tony Stark (voiced by Marc Worden), pre-armor and sans goatee. While Tony keeps himself occupied with his latest romantic conquest, his secretary, Pepper Potts (Elisa Gabrielli), keeps things running smoothly at home and his best friend, Rhodes (Rodney Saulsberry), uses Stark Industriesí technology to raise the ruins of an ancient Chinese kingdom. While Rhodes tries to fend off the Jade Dragons, mysterious vigilantes hoping to disrupt the dig, Tony gets blindsided by the corporate board who, with the tacit agreement of Tony's cold, distant father, Howard (John McCook), donít take kindly to Tonyís costly, secretive side projects. Not surprisingly, Tony and his father have some issues to work out.
When the Jade Dragons sabotage the dig and kidnap Rhodes, Stark finally flies in to the rescue. The Jade Dragons then ambush and kidnap Stark. His heart damaged, Stark is near-death when heís reunited with Rhodes. With the help of a mystically empowered monk and Rhodeís technical know-how, Stark gets an artificial heart. Li Mei (Gwendoline Yeo), a reluctant member of the Jade Dragons, mentions an ancient prophecy involving four mystical warriors, the Elementals (earth, water, wind, and fire), power rings, and the resurrection of the Mandarin (Fred Tatasciore), an ancient despot. An Iron Knight is also destined to arise and defeat him. Stark and Rhodes put together a crude prototype of the Iron Man armor and escape. Feeling responsible, Stark sets out to defeat the Elementals before they resurrect the Mandarin.
As a superhero, Stark is probably one of the most conservative around. Stark/Iron Man created during the Vietnam era as an anti-communist superhero/free-market capitalist, eagerly profiting from the development and sale of technologically advanced weaponry. On more than one occasion, Stark worked directly with S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Hazard Intervention, Espionage and Logistics Directorate). Even when he wasnít, opting for an "ends justifies the means" approach to decision making, making Iron Man one of Marvelís least sympathetic superheroes, especially for comic book fans with preferences for anti-authoritarianism or psychological complexity.
Animation wise, The Invincible Iron Man is probably the weakest of Marvel Animation Studiosí direct-to-DVD efforts. The character designs tend toward the bland and uninventive while the combination of traditional 2D animation with computer-animated backgrounds is far from seamless (actually far from it). Itís hard to see why this happened, but it was likely a result of a rushed production schedule and limited resources. Whatever the reason, the animation isnít likely to create new Iron Man fans or generate renewed interest among comic fans for either a sequel or, as Marvel hopes from this particular effort, for the live-action film, directed by Jon Favreau (Zathura, Elf, Swingers) with Robert Downey, Jr. in the lead role, slated for release next summer.
Story wise, The Invincible Iron Man covers overly familiar ground, if not in the retconned, continuity-free origin for Stark/Iron Man, then in the predictable character arc for a reluctant superhero who, no thanks to a combination of hubris and indifference, creates a problem that only he can fix and, in fixing the problem (i.e., defeating a superpowered villain), takes a few steps toward maturity and away from the egotism that defined him when The Invincible Iron Man began. That much done, Iron Man steps us and accepts responsibility for making the world a better place by defeating one world-conquering supervillain at a time. And when he canít go it alone (Rhodes aside), he can call on the Avengers, Marvelís premier superhero team (created as Marvel's answer to DC Comicsí superhero team, Justice League of America).Ultimately, "The Invincible Iron Man" is a middling effort from a fledging animation studio that needs to find its way fast or end up as undermining the Marvel brand new and the live-action feature films Marvel already has in the pipeline. As for Stark, weíll obviously have to wait and see whether the forthcoming live-action version can make him more sympathetic (nuance would help) than what Marvel gave us here. Itíd help, of course, if the supervillain Stark has to take down in the live-action film isnít as stereotypical, not to mention potentially offensive, as the one his animated predecessor has to fight in "The Invincible Iron Man."
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originally posted: 01/21/07 18:12:35