Saturday, February 24, 2007

Cold Iron

(Obviously, images © Marvel Productions.)

Readers of our old blog (and yes, I will rebuild it...things are just bad right now) remember how unsatisfied I was with Ultimate Avengers 2. Which is why I didn't buyThe Invincible Iron Man on DVD, but rented it. (See, Blockbuster does have some uses. You can look at movies about which you have little interest, and that includes most of their stock.)

For those of you not into comics, or Marvel comics, understand that Iron Man is one of the most right-wing of Marvel's characters. The original origin story (that sounds redundant!) had millionaire weapons maker Tony Stark visiting Vietnam to see his weapons in use. He was kidnapped by a Communist general, after he had a near-fatal wound to his heart. Being a genius, Stark built a chest plate to keep his heart beating. Then he added stuff to make it a complete suit of armor, with jet boots and force-field repellers in the gauntlets.

Marvel's writers have done things throughout the years to try to make Iron Man interesting, and they were only partially successful. They fixed his heart so he could start dating women again, and not worry about taking off his shirt to reveal his Iron Man chestplate. They gave him numerous kinds of armor for special missions. Tony Stark became an alcoholic, and during rehab, had one of his assistants wear the armor. An enemy stole his armor's secrets, and Iron Man hunted down and destroyed the duplicates - even though some of them were bought by the military, making Iron Man a traitor to the USA.

None of this changed the idea that, if Dick Cheney read comic books, Iron Man would be his favorite hero. Wealthy, unrestrained in his use of force, protecting his wealth and power no matter what. And in Marvel's recent "Civil War" story line he promoted the registration of superheroes with the government, hunting down some of his old friends - including Captain America, who was American enough to see it as an exercise in facism.

Downplaying "Old Shell-Head's" comic book past in this animated film didn't make it any better. The story line takes place in China, where "rebels" are the bad guys who capture Stark, not Communist officials. And the main contention is the raising of a long-lost temple, which happens to be the center of a cult. The cult succeeds, and obtains the rings of an ancient figure called the Mandarin.

In the comics, the Mandarin was a cliched Yellow Peril villain. Here, he becomes a ghostly supernatural force (not the best foe for a technological hero) who takes over the hot Chinese chick, Li Mei (voice by Gwendoline Yeo, the Asian housekeeper from last year's Desperate Housewives).

The animation, mixing cel and CGI, works fairly well. But it's in service to a story where you can't gain any sympathy for any of the participants. Gee, I guess it's nice that Iron Man saved China from an ancient undead sorcerer, and that the hot Chinese chick got de-posessed, but I still kept the fast-forward button pressed through most of this movie.

The blandness of the plot, despite numerous off-screen deaths, made me focus on something peculiar to these Marvel productions, quasi-nudity. The show starts with Tony Stark (Marc Worden) in a hot tub with a well-built bit player. Their "naughty bits" were well hidden by mysterious clouds of steam. Later, when Li Mei is posessed by the spirit of the Mandarin, her nude form is carefully covered by mysterious streams of silk that hide her details but reveal her curves.

Y'know, guys, you're not selling that many of these things to kids; why not make it R-rated and show some nipples? At this point, it might be your only selling point. That way, perhaps you'd find some pressure to actually give the characters some depth to differentiate nude cartoon characters from pure porn. (I wouldn't call the character "the hot Chinese chick" if she didn't have less personality than Wendi Whoppers. And if you know who Wendi Whoppers is, shame on you.)

The only positive thing I can say about this DVD is that they avoided the terrible "blooper" section from the Ultimate Avengers DVD's, especially the "Tony Stark's House of Ribs" jokes that not even the most hardcore True Believer would laugh at.

Marvel was hoping to hitch their wagon to the rising star of Spider-Man's live-action movies. It hasn't worked. Come to think of it, if they had a working knowledge of what made a good cartoon, they could have made a good Spider-Man animated TV series - or kept alive the interesting CGI Spidey series they did with Sony a few years ago. Instead, they tried these lackluster DVD releases, failing to intrigue comic fans and non-comic fans alike.

There's still one more Marvel animated DVD in the pipeline, but if the trailer from Doctor Strange included in this disc's extras is an example of that movie, Marvel should cut its losses and end production. They couldn't pull off this militaristic, power-mongering military hero. What makes them think they can pull off the dimension-tripping, hippie-dippy, philosophically complex Master of the Mystic Arts in animated form?

Labels: , , ,