Comics fans can be forgiven for greeting the news that Marvel Comics had started its own movie production company with hope quickly followed by a chaser of skepticism. The track record for House of Idea comics made cinematic flesh is, to put it kindly, wildly uneven; and the verb "love" was rarely appended to those films. Then the first previews of Iron Man caused a furor at the San Diego Comic Con, which quickly overflowed onto the Internet, and the movie itself kicked off a very profitable summer for Hollywood. It was finally knocked off its highest grossing perch by that warhorse from the Distinguished Competition, The Dark Knight.
That ain't bad for what is generally considered a second-tier super hero.
For the uninitiated: billionaire inventor and arms merchant Tony Stark is wounded and captured by terrorists who hope to force him to build weapons before the shrapnel in their captive's chest works its way into his heart. Stark instead builds a suit of super powered armor which allows him to escape, and upon finding that his company has been supplying said terrorists and their friends for years, sheds his playboy image and proceeds to refine the armor into a butt-kicking force for good. Of course, the same no-goodnik in his company who's been selling the arms to terrorists would like his own suit of armor...
Director Jon Favreau (Zathura and Elf) does a whole lot right; origin stories for superheros have a tendency to either be dull or sketchy in their onscreen incarnations, but in this case, although the "training" portions of the story are lengthy, they are kept light and exciting. Given the fictional Tony Stark's problems with alcohol, the casting of Robert Downey, Jr. seems like a gimmick, until the viewer remembers what a gifted actor he is, and how effortlessly he turns on pure charm. Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts... um, possibly gimmick. But Jeff Bridges as chief bad guy Obadiah Stane? Marvelous. So to speak.
Extraordinary special effects headed up by Industrial Light & Magic seal the deal, consigning the memory of a lot of wanna-bes like Elektra and Daredevil to fanboy dustbins. With this, and the movie that followed it by a couple of months, The Incredible Hulk, Marvel hit the ball out of the park, and that ball hasn't landed yet.
High-profile movies these days can come in a variety of high-profile packaging, depending on where one buys the disc - the Target special edition, for example, comes in a plastic Iron Man head. Such bookshelf-defying trickery aside, at least the discs within remain consistent, and Paramount has done a marvelous job. The menu, however, presided over by a CGI Iron Man and designed to echo the electronic Heads-Up Displays of the movie is so lengthy and cluttered that one almost suspects one bought a Universal disc by mistake.
Disc One starts out with teaser trailers for the J.J. Abrams Star Trek re-tool, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and the aforementioned The Incredible Hulk. It also has access to ten Deleted and Extended Scenes and a preview for the upcoming animated series Iron Man: Armored Adventures. That one is tough to process for an old-time Iron Man fan like myself. It bears the Nicktoons logo, and the main character seems to be teen-aged.
There is also an Easter Egg. If you choose "Special Features", then once more go down to "Main Menu", but then press the left arrow key, you will highlight the tuxedo jacket. Press "enter" and you'll get an interview segment with Downey and Stan Lee.
Disc Two has the red meat for filmmaking fans. I Am Iron Man is a 90 minute compendium of pre-production, and on-set video following the shoot. The Invincible Iron Man is a very well-produced history of the evolution of the comic book character, giving fanboys a chance to say, "Gee, so that's what Gerry Conway looks like!" Wired provides profiles on the three visual effects houses that handled various portions of the computer-generated gee-whizzery, and it can be quite surprising how much CGI was seamlessly blended into practical footage.
There are also three Robert Downey Jr. screen tests (even at that early stage of the game, nailing the character); a bit of video showing Downey, Jeff Bridges and Jon Favreau talking and improvising their way through a difficult scene (and it is always a pleasure to see professionals taking their craft so seriously); Gallery sections broken down into Concept Art, Tech, Unit Photography, and Posters, and a clip from The Onion TV, Wildly Popular Iron Man Trailer to be Adapted into Full Length Film, which frankly makes a funnier title than it does a fake newscast.
Oddly missing: that "wildly popular" trailer, and a music video for Black Sabbath's song "Iron Man".
Okay, I'm just being a spoiled brat about that last item. I got my movie, a movie of which I not only did not have to be ashamed, but which also scored, and scored big, outside the Fanboy Demographic. I should be satisfied with the wonder of that.
Dr. Freex, 11/16/2008