THE INVINCIBLE IRON MAN: Can You Get Me In the Building?

The Invincible Iron Man (2007) – Directed by Patrick Archibald, Jay Oliva, Frank D. Paur – Starring Marc Worden, Rodney Saulsberry, Fred Tatasciore, and Gwendoline Yeo.

I’m not really sure what to make of THE INVINCIBLE IRON MAN.

Taken as is, it’s not a bad little animated movie. There’s too much Tony Stark (Marc Worden) and not enough Iron Man, there’s too much trying to prevent the Mandarin and not enough actual Mandarin, and we’re dreadfully back in origin mode at the start of the film, so it is, by no means, a perfect animated film, but it’s not a bad watch on the Netflix Instant.

My real question about INVINCIBLE is whether it has any merit in a post-Robert Downey, Jr. world. In the pre-IRON MAN world, of course, INVINCIBLE didn’t have to live up to anything but other animated versions of the Armored Avenger. In that light, INVINCIBLE is pretty good, if a bit depressing. There’s some elements of the film that foreshadow the Favreau motion picture (Tony getting blown up in a convoy, being saved by an enemy), but there are some contradictory elements, too (Howard Stark still being alive being the most significant).

The live-action films don’t have to cater to the animated films, of course, because their appeal and influence is so much greater, and it’s perhaps a bit unfair (though unavoidable) that the animated films live the shadow of the live-action movies, especially when the animated movies come out first. In a sense, if the animated film does come out first,* it’s real purpose is as a superheroic amuse-bouche, a bite-sized snack to whet the appetite for the meal that follows. Taken on its own, the amuse-bouche works, but if you leave the restaurant talking about it instead of the main course, then there’s something seriously wrong with that restaurant.

*This doesn’t really apply to characters like Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man, who seemingly always simultaneously exist in both animated and live-action form, but for secondary characters.

At the time it was released, it was nice to see an Iron Man film, but now … INVINCIBLE is a good watch, but unless they are something extraordinary, I think these Marvel animated films work best when they are doormen that open the door to the larger Marvel Universe. It should grab fans flipping the dial or picking through the bargain bin and help lead them to the larger world of Marvel entertainment, but INVINCIBLE doesn’t really do that. Much like Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme, INVINCIBLE is oddly somber. I admire the attempt to tell a serious story here but the filmmakers should be able to do that at the same time they give us something a bit more enjoyable to watch.

Maybe it would have been better for all of these animated Lionsgate features followed the Ultimate Avengers and were tied to the Ultimate universe, because then they would have continued value as part of a larger collective.

As it stands, however, INVINCIBLE is little more than a diversion. I own it on DVD but I haven’t had any interest in upgrading to a Blu-ray even though it’s got a permanent place in the bargain bin.

And I really like spending money.

INVINCIBLE starts out with a pre-Iron Man Tony Stark. He’s still the genius visionary who likes to do two things: invent stuff and have sex with hot women. It’s not a bad life, one supposes, but the story arc that develops here from Tony Stark the Playboy Industrialist to Tony Stark the Concerned Super Hero is a bit tame. There’s a moment here where the feds are after Stark, wanting him arrested for selling guns to terrorists (which he didn’t do), and he’s literally hanging out across the street from Stark Tower, unshaven, and calling for help to get back into the building. He actually asks for help twice – once from Pepper and once from his dad – and it’s really pathetic to see that this Tony Stark can’t even figure out a way to get back into his lab without help.

As mentioned, the terrorist group Jade Dragons is stealing Stark weaponry in order to keep the Mandarin from returning. It’s a nice twist, that the bad guys here are really trying to prevent a bigger bad guy from reappearing. Stark’s pal Rhodey gets captured by the Dragons, which leads to Stark getting himself blown up, which leads to Rhodey and a shaman saving Stark. The only nice person in the terrorist group is Li Mei and she also happens to be the only attractive young woman in the group, so, you know, it’s like we’re living out a Stark-engineered fantasy at Rekall.

Tony builds the original grey Iron Man suit, and upon seeing it, Mei believes Tony to be the prophesied Iron Knight who will battle the Mandarin to the death. There’s some nice elemental villains, but like the baddies in Doctor Strange, they’re really just cool visuals without any real attachment to Iron Man. It’s not personal and they’re not interesting on a narrative level. They’re just cool to look at.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but if the filmmakers had managed to give us cool visuals alongside a better connection, INVINCIBLE could have been something special instead of something merely pretty good.

Instead, we’re left with a whole lot of sitting through Stark and the Feds and the hunt for the rings (which almost feels like the subplot, at times, when it seems like it really should be the dominate plot in an animated film) until we get to Li Mei’s revelation that she’s actually trying to bring the Mandarin back instead of thwarting his return. Then there’s fighting and personal struggles and Tony convinces Li to turn her back on the Mandarin and it all just sort of ends with a whimper instead of some marvelous Marvel mayhem.

It’s all just sort of okay, in the end. INVINCIBLE IRON MAN is certainly worth a watch, and even a re-watch or two if you’re jonesing for a Mandarin story or some technology vs. magic action (which is animated nicely), but you’d best do it before IRON MAN 3 hits theaters in May 2013.

Because when it does, we’ll finally have a live-action Mandarin, and another of INVINCIBLE’s selling points will grow dimmer.