Blu-ray
Highly Recommended
4.5 stars
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Overall Grade
4.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
3.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
4.5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
5 Stars
Supplements
3.5 Stars
High-Def Extras
1 Stars
Bottom Line
Highly Recommended

Iron Man (2008)

Street Date:
September 30th, 2008
Reviewed by:
Peter Bracke
Review Date: 1
September 11th, 2008
Movie Release Year:
2008
Studio:
Paramount Home Entertainment
Length:
125 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

I'll admit it: when I first saw the trailer for 'Iron Man' earlier this year, I thought the film was going to tank. I just couldn't see it -- Robert Downey, Jr., while no doubt a wonderful actor, as a playboy millionaire turned anti-war superhero? Gwenyth Paltrow as his passive, long-suffering assistant who could make Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane look tough? And Iron Man himself, a giant tin man who appeared (at least in the trailer) to be little more than some sort of CGI RoboCop? On top of all this, the film was directed by Jon Favreau, who last had a genuine hit with 'Elf' -- not exactly a calling card for directing a mega-budgeted comic book blockbuster.

Then, of course, I actually saw 'Iron Man,' and I had to eat almost all of my negative preconceptions. Here's a comic book movie that's one of the best Hollywood has created in recent years. It's not jokey. It's not silly. And it's not condescending to its comic book origins, or its audience. It's also highly entertaining and simply great fun, while remaining literate and serious about its anti-war profiteering message. It's a cliche to say "thinking man's comic book movie," but that's exactly what 'Iron Man' is.

The story will likely be familiar to any fan of the original Marvel comic. Downey's Tony Stark is the perfect embodiment of the Alpha Male. He's Bill Gates with pecs, blessed with a genius IQ, movie star good looks, and a teflon coat of cockiness. He also happens to be an amoral (if legal) arms dealer, with his Stark Industries the world's leading supplier of weapons of mass destruction. As the film begins, Stark is casual and cavalier -- on his way to his latest weapons demo for the military that he treats with all the seriousness of the opening of a nightclub. Then real bombs are dropped, and Stark is captured by a group of revolutionary terrorists. Pressed into service for his hi-tech skills, he plots his escape by turning himself into (in a mere few minutes of screen time) his own weapon of mass destruction -- Iron Man.

After Stark's triumph against the terrorists, he announces that Stark Industries is droppings its weapons division -- much to the chagrin of his CFO Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) and their stockholders. Newly-reborn as an altruistic media hero (the theme of transformation will permeate the film), he sets about to perfect an even more advanced Iron Man suit -- capable of amazing feats of strength and flight. No mere man in tights or an aberration of nature, Stark is a comic book hero of his own creation, out to mete justice not just because it is the American Way, but to atone for his own legacy of sins. Even his covert longings for his assistant Pepper Potts (Paltrow) are transformed by his personal evolution. The ironies are none-too-subtle -- he who was once flesh-and-blood is now infused with iron and technology, and finally ready to become a real... man?

For its first two-thirds, 'Iron Man' works on just about every level. As social commentary, as an effects-filled adventure, as romance, and as a wholly entertaining comic book thrill ride. And that's largely thanks to Downey -- he's terrific. Stark's alcohol-fueled party-boy persona is a perfect fit for the actor (it's now impossible to imagine anyone better suited for the role), and his natural humor makes even the most implausible aspects of the character and story strangely believable. Let's face it, the concept of Stark building an Iron Man in about three days is absurd. But Downey simply pulls it off, and does what the best actors in a comic book movie do -- he makes us metaphorically believe that a "man can fly."

Unfortunately, what kept 'Iron Man' from ranking as a true classic of the genre is in its disappointing third act. As the true villain of the piece will make himself known, much of the interesting themes and character machinations that were set up early in the film will grind to a halt. The climactic battle between "good" and "bad" iron men may be well staged, but it feels like 'Transformers' light, even ripping off some of the locations of that Michael Bay hit. And the Paltrow character is absolutely wasted -- she's turned into a wimpy damsel-in-distress who stands around waiting for Downey to save her, which drains all the sexual spark from a character who so perked up the first half of the film.

But no matter. Even a weak resolution can't dim the fun of 'Iron Man.' Faithful to the political undercurrents of the original comic, brilliant in its casting of Downey, and with finely-tuned action thanks to the tight direction of Favreau (who knew?), here's the rare comic book film that has something to say and says it with great excitement and nerve. 'Iron Man' isn't perfect (and not truly genre-elevating, like 'The Dark Knight'), but if only all comic book movies were this much fun. Even if you don't think you like the genre -- like I usually don't -- 'Iron Man' may well surprise you.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

'Iron Man' comes to Blu-ray as easily the most anticipated Paramount title of the year, and perhaps that of any major studio. This is the kind of film you hope will deliver a new demo disc, and the kind of film that you bought a Blu-ray player for in the first place. While I don't think this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (framed at 2.40:1 and spread across a BD-50 dual-layer disc) is absolutely reference-quality, it's a mighty fine presentation that largely hits the bull's-eye.

The film has a split personality for a visual style. Shot with both traditional anamorphic and Super35 film processes, the early desert scenes have a much starker, grittier quality, while the latter half of the film is much more glossy and slick. As such, while the source is spotless, there are some apparently intentional inconsistencies in contrast, blacks and color saturation.

Some of the early scenes suffer from a color palette that tends to be slightly oversaturated, which mucks up fleshtones a bit and can leave the image looking fuzzy and slightly flat. Darker scenes here also tend to flatten out a bit, while contrast runs hot which results in blown out whites. There is also slight grain here, though I welcomed it as it added a film-like look and offset some of the digital-ization due to the more stylized elements of the transfer.

When the film really kicks into gear and introduces Iron Man 2.0, is when the presentation really soars. Colors are vibrant and lush, blacks excellent, and detail and depth quite wonderful. Fleshtones also become a bit more realistic, giving the film a very polished look yet still retaining a natural and dimensional picture. There are many sequences here (particularly Iron Man's first night flight, as well as the climactic battle) that can easily serve as demo material.

Despite some inconsistencies, Paramount has produced an impeccable encode. There are no obvious artifacts, noise or any motion jaggies. Edge enhancement is also not an issue. 'Iron Man' doesn't quite earn a five-star rating from me, but this is still a generally excellent presentation that shouldn't disappoint.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

Paramount provides a 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 new showroom staple at Best Buys across the nation.

'Iron Man' is so much fun because the character himself is a one-man crash test dummy. He clangs, he bashes, he bursts, he blows shit up. Discrete effects alight the surrounds every moment he's on-screen, especially as he's usually in the middle of some big-budget action sequences surrounded by gunfire, explosions and lots of screaming baddies. The rears creating a completely convincing, three-dimensional environment with airtight imaging between channels and a depth of fidelity to dynamic range that's top-notch. Minor ambiance is also very well sustained, so there's rarely a dull moment on this soundtrack.

Dynamics are also superb. Low bass is some of the best I've heard since titles like 'Transformers,' with the film's climactic battle in particular a real scorcher. The full frequency spectrum is note-perfect, and at a loud volume, the level of clarity and detail is reference-quality. Dialogue is firmly placed in the center channel except for a few vocal effects, and is never overwhelmed by the action. 'Iron Man' is definitely going to be one of this year's most justifiably-praised demo soundtracks on Blu-ray.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

Paramount has wisely pulled out all the stops for 'Iron Man,' giving it the full special edition treatment (the Blu-ray is premiering day-and-date with the standard DVD, and with matching extras). The studio also gives us great-looking material, with all video extras in full 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video. (Optional English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles are also provided.)

Disc One:

  • Documentary: "The Invincible Iron Man" (HD, 49 minutes) - This six-parter 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. This offers great context for better appreciating the feature film, as it reveals details that I (being comic book-stupid) had no idea about, including Lee's intention for Iron Man to be a very un-Marvel-like, his surprising appeal to women readers, and the sociopolitical underpinnings to the character. A excellent doc. 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) - This interactive function is not a featurette so much as a fully-controllable 3-D still gallery. 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. Very nicely done.
  • Deleted/Extended Scenes (HD, 24 minutes) - There are eleven scenes in total. The extended clips are of little interest, with most mere dialogue padding that don't add up to much. However, there are a couple of nice additions to the final battle which deliver more action, which are probably the highlights here. (Note that though these scenes are presented in full HD, the effects in some clips remain unfinished. At times there are also time codes and other graphic overlays, which can be distracting.)

Disc Two:

  • Documentary: "I Am Iron Man" (HD, 111 minutes) - This seven-parter is the heart of the making-of materials. This is a glossy but comprehensive doc, and running nearly two hours, is like a movie in and of itself. 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 pacing is excellent, with the talking heads balanced with extensive making-of and video diary footage. Also well done is the overall narrative arc, as this is the first full in-house Marvel production, which adds an element of tension missing from most docs like this. This is easily one of the best making-of docs I've seen on a new release in quite some time. 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) - Not sure why this wasn't integrated into the main doc (perhaps it is too technical), but in any case it's a fine look at the film's A-list CGI effects. The Iron Man suits are of course the main attraction (the footage of the practical costumes is especially cool), as well as how the team of animators had to bridge the real with the computer-generated. Downey is also amusing as always in describing 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 nailed it. It's now hard to imagine anyone else in the role.
  • Still Gallery (HD, 5 minutes) - We have four galleries here: "Concept Art," "Tech," "Unit Photography" and "Posters." The interface is slick and easy to use, with basic manual controls and a nice interface with snazzy HD resolution. The image quality is excellent, and in all, I counted well over 200 stills.
  • Theatrical Trailers (HD) - Finally, we have three trailers -- two domestic, one international. All are in full HD video.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

Paramount has outfitted 'Iron Man' with BD-Live, requiring a Profile 2.0-compatible player. (Note that as these features will not go live until the disc's street date of September 30, we are unable to review these features yet in full. We'll update this space when the disc hits stores.)

  • Iron Man IQ - This interactive quiz feature promises to allow you to test your 'Iron Man' knowledge with multiple choices questions and film clips, as well as share your own. We'll look forward to checking this out when the disc's BD-Live destination goes live on street date.

Easter Eggs

Thanks to the tips of many readers, we've found one easter egg (so far) on 'Iron Man.'

To find it, go to the "Extras" submenu on disc one. Highlight "BD-Live," then press the Right button on your remote. A icon of Iron Man's wire-frame hand will appear. Select it and press Enter, and enjoy a vignette featuring Stan Lee and Robert Downey Jr.

Final Thoughts

'Iron Man' is one of the better comic book adaptations to come out of Hollywood in eons. Though a bit too long, and with a climax that underwhelms, it's enlivened by a wonderful performance by Robert Downey, Jr., and even classifies as a sleeper as expectations weren't necessarily that high upon its original release. This Blu-ray is unequivocally terrific, however, with great video and even better audio, plus hours of HD-quality supplements. 'Iron Man' on Blu-ray is a no-brainer.

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray
  • BD-50 Dual-Layer Disc/BD-25 Single-Layer Disc
  • Two-Disc Set
  • BD-Live (Profile 2.0)

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2.40:1

Audio Formats

  • English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround

Supplements

  • Documentaries
  • Featurettes
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Still Gallery
  • Theatrical Trailers

Exclusive HD Content

  • Interactive Game
  • BD-Live
List Price
$39.99
Amazon
$24.39 (39%)
3rd Party
$24.39
Usually ships in 1-2 business days Buy Now»