Having suffered through more misses than hits, comic book fans were understandably concerned about Iron Man, a second-tier hero for Marvel Comics, coming to the big screen. Those fears were blasted aside by the talented team behind the second best superhero film of 2008, a fitting designation considering that while Stan Lee claims Tony Stark was inspired by Howard Hughes, it’s hard not to see comparisons to Lee’s crosstown rival’s own millionaire playboy industrialist and more successful creation, Bruce Wayne.
Iron Man is fantastic, filled with great action and special effects, particularly the outstanding CGI effects that seamlessly fit into the real world. You will believe an Iron Man can fly through the sky with planes. However, what helps the film rise above similar Hollywood fare is the story and characterization in the script, elements usually ignored and overlooked.
The film presents an origin story and updates it from the comics by setting it in modern times and moving the occurrence of his life-threatening injury from Vietnam to Afghanistan. The viewer is presented a quick sense of Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) character as the film opens. In Vegas, he blows off accepting an award and shoots high-stakes craps. He takes a beautiful reporter home for the night to Los Angeles, but is gone halfway around the world before she wakes up. Filled with so much pride, the fall was inevitable.
While demonstrating Stark Industries’ new weapons system known as “Jericho” to the U.S. military in Afghanistan, Stark gets severely injured in a bombing, also a product of S.I., and is taken prisoner by terrorists, who want their own Jericho. Stark has a change of heart literally as shrapnel from the bomb is close to the organ, and the only thing keeping him alive is a magnetic device installed in his chest that keeps the pieces from it. Rather than build a version of Jericho, Stark, in the one sequence of the film that is completely unbelievable, builds himself a suit of armor and weapons to escape.
Shortly after his return home, Stark makes private modifications to the suit while making public modifications to the business his company does. He gets resistance to the latter, most notably from Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), his deceased father's friend and business partner. As they investigate each other, Stane learns of Stark’s Iron Man suit and attempts to build his own, setting up the final conflict.
Robert Downey Jr. was a superb casting choice because he was able to act as the smug, rich playboy and the humble hero. He carries off both the humor and drama of the story.
The visual presentation is very good. Shellhead’s red and gold suit dazzles on screen, whether day or night, and the texture shows fine detail. The CGI effects still mesh with the real world around it and don’t stand out as fake, which can unfortunately happen when transitioning from film to video. There is some image detail loss in dark scenes, like when Iron Monger comes to life in the darkened lab or is fighting outside in the night, but I don’t remember the way the scenes looked when shown in the theatre, so I can’t hold the disc at fault completely.
The audio presentation in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 is even better, immersing the viewer in the soundtrack and giving the surround system a workout. Whether engulfing the viewer in a battle or switching channels as Iron Man streaks across the sky, the sound design team really earned their pay. You can scare the neighbors with this one.
To earn “Ultimate” in the description, the set packs on a ton of exclusives shot in high definition. On Disc 1 a Blu-ray exclusive is “Hall of Armor” that shows the specs of each armor type from the film as each suit rotates in 3-D. “The Invincible Iron Man” presents a comic fan’s dream line-up of creative talent talking about the character’s history. It can be viewed in one piece or by different chapters. The deleted and extended scenes flesh out the story even more and from a filmmaking perspective it’s great that the clips have their ID numbers because you can see how the work of different days was pieced together in the editing process.
Disc 2 is filled with special features. There is a feature-length, making-of documentary called “I Am Iron Man.” Running almost two hours it is comprised of seven parts, which can also be accessed by chapter, that examine different aspects of the film’s creation from pre-production to post. Fans who love the process will really enjoy this. In the same vein is “Wired: Inside the Visual Effects of Iron Man.” Acting is spotlighted in two segments as we see screen tests with Downey and we watch director Jon Favreau work with Downey and Bridges in “The Actor's Process.”
Of course, there will likely be other DVD and Blu-ray releases with different material in the future, but this Ultimate 2-Disc Edition should be all you ever need.