I thought a tin can superhero on the big screen sounded like a surefire dud. I was so sure of myself; I avoided the film in theatrical release and waited until I got a copy of the Blu-ray. Iron Man is a long running Marvel comic that started out with Tony Stark as a weapons manufacturer during the Vietnam War who, after seeing the real effects of his products on military personal and civilians, decided to find a new way to achieve justice in the world.
For the 2008 film, director Jon Favreau (Elf) and screenwriters Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby (with additional assistance from Art Marcum and Matt Holloway) the story has been updated to involve current American military affairs. On a trip to Afghanistan to show off his latest weapon of destruction, Stark’s (Robert Downey, Jr.) caravan of humvees is ambushed and Stark is whisked away to the secret headquarters of a terrorist cell that demands he recreate his missile system for their own use. Instead, he builds a sophisticated suit of armor and sets himself free.
After his success against the terrorists, Tony announces that Stark Industries is closing the weapons division, which angers CFO Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) and company stockholders. Reborn as a media hero, Stark wants to upgrade his Iron Man suit so he can take the weapons he made, out of the hands of the bad guys. Stark becomes a comic book hero of his own creation, looking to dole out justice as a way to atone for his own sins. Even his covert longings for his assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) are transformed by his personal evolution. The irony of the whole thing isn’t very subtle–he was once just flesh and blood but now, infused with iron, Stark finds himself ready to grow up and become a man.
For the first two-thirds of the film Iron Man works perfectly in every way; as social commentary, as an effects-filled adventure, as romance, and as a wholly entertaining comic book adventure. Robert Downey Jr. is wonderful as Tony Stark. He plays the part with the right mix of ego, humor and heart the character needs to be believable. It has been written before, but Downey Jr. is simply one of the best actors working in Hollywood today. His versatility is amazing, as he evolves from a hard partying playboy to a thoughtful man with a serious mission.
If Iron Man has a weakness, it’s to be found in the final act. As the real villain of the film comes to light, much of the interesting themes and character machinations that were set up early in the film will grind to a halt. The battle between the “good” and “bad” iron men feels like a rip off from other recent action flicks, instead of something original, like the rest of the film. And Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts who added a little sexual spark to the first half of the film, is reduced to a damsel in distress who waits around for Tony to save her.
Even a bit of a weak ending doesn’t ruin the fun of Iron Man. The story stays true to the political overtones of the original Marvel comic, has a great cast and fine action sequences without going over the top. Iron Man is the rare film based on a comic book that truly has something to say and this film says it, remarkably well.
The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (framed at 2.40:1 and spread across a BD-50 dual-layer disc) is an excellent transfer. The colors are fairly vibrant and lush. You may notice some slight color palette inconsistencies during darker scenes. However, all-in-all-Paramount has produced a solid encode. There are no noticeable artifacts, noise or any motion jaggies. Edge enhancement is also not an issue.
Paramount provides an English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround mix (48kHz/24-bit) for ‘Iron Man,’ and it’s terrific. Now, this is what home theater is all about, and this Blu-ray is bound to be a staple for home theater geeks showing off their gear.
Iron Man also includes Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs in French and Spanish, and subtitle streams are offered in English (traditional and SDH), French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
The Iron Man – Ultimate Edition is packed with special features:
• Documentary: “The Invincible Iron Man” (HD, 49 minutes) – This six-part series chronicles the creation, evolution of the original Iron Man comic book character. A host of comic book types are interviewed, including Marvel kingpin Stan Lee, writer Gerry Conway, and artists John Romita, Jr. and Gene Colan. The six parts are: “Origins” (8 minutes), “Friends & Foes” (4 minutes), “Definitive Iron Man” (5 minutes), “Demon in a Bottle” (2 minutes), “Extremis and Beyond” (26 minutes) and “Ultimate Iron Man” (4 minutes).
• Hail of Armor (HD) – Here you enter the “Stark Database” and its three Iron Man suits, as well as the Iron Monger. You can check out detailed images of each, as well as “zoom” around each suit to get a closer look.
• Deleted/Extended Scenes (HD, 24 minutes) – There are eleven scenes in total. The extended clips are mostly dialogue padding that doesn’t add up to much. There are a couple additions to the final battle, which are probably the highlights here.
• Documentary: “I Am Iron Man” (HD, 111 minutes) – This seven-parter is the making-of materials. Every major player is interviewed on-set, including director Jon Favreau, actors Robert Downey Jr., Gwenyth Paltrow, Terrence Howard, and Jeff Bridges, co-screenwriters Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby, most of the production and tech teams, and the folks from Marvel including Stan Lee. The seven parts include: “The Journey Begins” (21 minutes), “The Suit that Makes Iron Man” (10 minutes), “The Walk of Destruction” (22 minutes), “Grounded in Reality” (15 minutes), “Beneath the Armor” (16 minutes), “It’s All in the Details” (14 minutes) and “A Good Story, Well Told” (12 minutes)
• Featurette: “Wired: The Visual Effects of Iron Man” (HD, 27 minutes) – It’s a look at the film’s A-list CGI effects. As well as how the team of animators had to bridge the real with the computer-generated. Downey also describes what it’s like to act in giant pieces of metal and rubber.
• Rehearsal Footage (HD, 11 minutes) – There are two clips here, “Robert Downey Jr. Screen Test” (6 minutes) and “The Actor’s Process” (4 minutes), which is just run-through material with the main cast. The Downey screen test is great to watch — the actor had to heavily campaign for the role, but shows here why he got it.
• Still Gallery (HD, 5 minutes) – There are four galleries: “Concept Art,” “Tech,” “Unit Photography” and “Posters.” The interface is easy to use,. The image quality is excellent, and in all, I counted well over 200 stills.