Ironing Out the Future

Iron Man released in May of 2008. Lehman Brothers collapsed in September of that year. Lucky then for Marvel (and then Paramount), whose story of an arrogant, rich, hard capitalist saving the world with his money got ahead of the incoming recession. Reception to Iron Man might have changed by the fall.

Consider Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) saving himself with a high-tech, high-dollar chest implant. People go bankrupt over health care in America, and here’s a hero with no monetary limits. Access to money (and smarts admittedly) save him. Then, he builds a suit to escape a cave, setting middle eastern villains on fire. He takes that, spends more billions, and goes back to shoot more terrorist-esque goons. Iron Man is a movie of its decade, certainly, with distrust for government institutions, torture, fear for Afghanistan, and a hero akin to those reclusive billionaire icons like Jess Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg (if with infinitely more personality than either).

A year later, and Iron Man doesn’t work. Foreclosures, failing banks, a crashing stock market, and Occupy Wall Street likely doomed it all. By chance or by fate, Robert Downey Jr. landed the lead role, turning this exploitative playboy into an entertaining caricature that survived the circumstances around him.

Iron Man, looking back 11 years later, is an outlier that dared to fight against an American mainstay

In the opening scene, Stark rides with US soldiers. They want peace. He retorts, “I’d be out of a job with peace.” As a weapons dealer, he’s right. It’s almost satire, although 2005’s Lord of War skewered the trade with far more vigor (call it the Nicolas Cage factor). Iron Man is aiming for a straight redemption story, building up this hero to predictability tear him down.

“Don’t waste your life,” says a dying doctor to Stark, the catalyst not only for Stark’s attitude change in this movie, but the entirety of the series going forward. Iron Man shifts to a new bad guy after that. While the Taliban-adjacent thugs stick around, it’s the fervent capitalist who turns evil. Jeff Bridges heads Stark’s board room, still selling weapons to keep stock prices high against Stark’s wishes.

Of the four writers credited with Iron Man’s script, none returned to Marvel films (an exception made for outside-the-universe Punisher: War Zone). The series progressed on a different path without them. Stark didn’t sell weapons any longer, but did continue tinkering without oversight. Missteps led to chaos and national intervention, yet his heroism came from money. That joined with military might in the form of Captain America, eventually saved the world together in a flash of red, white, and blue come Avengers: Endgame.

Iron Man, looking back 11 years later, is an outlier that dared to fight against an American mainstay. When the Marvel series continued, it did so without blasting capitalists. Instead issues of surveillance and over regulation took the lead, softening Tony Stark who in this movie spends untold dollars on a mega-suit to save civilians from insurgents, but then takes off, leaving them in total poverty. Good thing Downey was so stellar in this part; it made those character faults easier to digest.

Video

Most entries in Marvel’s lot were shot digitally. Not Iron Man. The 35mm stock is butchered by this transfer though. Maybe an attempt to bring Iron Man in line with the rest, aggressive grain reduction leaves clear artifacts. Regular instances of mosquito noise look awkward and obvious. Where the rest of the frame keeps grain visibly frozen, motion on contrasting edges keeps the grain structure moving. This also applies to things like dust. It’s ridiculous and unnecessary.

This decision means a loss of fidelity, creating images lacking in hard detail and overall, an unnatural glossiness. Iron Man doesn’t reach the tier of some DNR catastrophes, yet the impact of such tools leaves a mark with smearing and messy textures.

What a shame too, since the HDR pass pumps up contrast with fantastic results. Black levels in the caves offer far better dimension than standard Blu-ray. Highlights hold back slightly, if still potent enough to embellish explosions or jet fire. Stark’s chest reactor glows with convincing nuclear light. Likewise, color grading drapes Iron Man with warmth, bringing flesh tones a tad too much heat, if saturating the red suit.

Audio

Yes, the volume of Iron Man’s Dolby Atmos track is too low. Long out of Paramount’s grasp, Disney’s touch is evident. And yes, the low-end misses the most powerful blasts, rumbling if not with the force expected.

Those concerns noted, Iron Man does show some progression in Disney’s method. Specifically, height channels that see use frequently. Inside the cave shoot-out, bullets reverb, plus they clip rocks that create debris falling in the overheads. Scenes of Stark flying spread engines into each channel. In terms of mixing, Iron Man sounds as if any barriers were removed and this update was given free reign to play.

To briefly return to the LFE, things like the first Iron Man suit generate a definite jolt with each step. While the Jericho missile blast disappoints, consistent performance is achieved the rest of the way. Again, not meeting standards set by other discs, if better by Disney’s par.

Extras

Nothing comes on the 4K release, meaning the bonuses reside on the Blu-ray, unchanged from the first disc. Luckily, way back when, extras mattered, and stuff like The Invincible Iron Man ran 49-minutes as they delved into the character and his history. I Am Iron Man barely falls short of two hours, looking into the film’s production. It’s great. A half-hour look at visual effects is worth watching too. Smaller featurettes and some deleted scenes round things out.

Iron Man
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Movie

The story of a billionaire saving the world in Iron Man made it to theaters months before recession and resentment set in. What luck.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our Patreon-exclusive set of 51 full 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: