At first glance, the idea of Robert Downey, Jr. playing the wealthy playboy and industrialist Tony Stark, whose superhero alter ego is essentially a weaponized metal suit, seems like an improbable match. But much like the public initially shrugged off Michael Keaton in Tim Burton's Batman twenty years earlier, moviegoers and comic book fans everywhere were pleasantly surprised the actor, who is better known for his comedies, actually suits the role rather well. Of course, part of the movie's success comes from Downey and the filmmakers tailoring the character to better fit his talents. As an arrogant and boastful billionaire with a witty, snarky tongue to match, the adaptation is a significant departure from the source material while still amazingly remaining faithful. Specifically, the script from a team of four writers retains the character's troubled and estranged relationship with his father as a major part of his personality. And the filmmakers take advantage of this when seeing Stark change his worldview.
For me, this is the key reason why Iron Man works so well. Beneath the sarcasm, conceited irreverence and swollen-headed confidence, there is a fragile, self-deprecating and insecure man. His progression to becoming a superhero is not only the result of a terrifying experience where he escaped his terrorist kidnappers, but it's also a personal odyssey of self-discovery and realizing one's actions have real-world, no matter how unintentional, consequences. As Stan Lee intended it, the steel armor suit is a metaphor for Stark hiding and protecting his vulnerable self. And like any true hero's journey, Tony is accompanied by a few of allies where Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is emotional impact and Rhodes (Terrence Howard) plays the ethical, conscience voice. Given all this, it is only seems natural and appropriate to see Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) serve as Iron Man's first villain, exposing the repercussions of Stark's narcissistic apathy. And with Jon Favreau in the director's chair, Iron Man was a surprise indeed. (Movie Rating: 4.5/5)
Iron Man 2
One of the better aspects of Iron Man 2 is screenwriter Justin Theroux following many of the same themes explored in the first movie, a story that feels like a logical aftermath of previous events. On the surface, Tony Stark is enjoying his newfound fame, clearly loving the public attention, feeding into a massive ego that can't be contained by the metallic suit that protects his overly confident exterior. Meanwhile, the U.S. Government wants the technology for a military weapons program, but this wisecracking, vainglorious narcissist wishes to maintain his superhero status, to keep the spotlight on his accomplishments. But behind closed doors, the billionaire genius is quietly struggling his mortality, wrestling with the fact that the very technology that makes him the star of the world is also slowly killing him. At the same time, his pride and vanity stops him from asking for help from those closest to him, specifically James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), leading to one becoming War Machine and the other CEO of Stark Industries.
Without Robert Downey Jr. as Stark, the character and his behavior would likely be annoying, if not at least frustrating to watch. But Downey does splendidly in portraying the comic book hero as a lonely, pathetic man just now grasping that all the money in the world can't buy him everything he needs for happiness. Although it's never said outright, we can feel that Stark is still seeking his father's approval after all these years while the realization of his mortality proves it improbable. It largely explains his erratic behavior like the Monaco Historic Grand Prix or the birthday party disaster. At the same time, our hero struggles with stepping outside of his father's shadow and accomplishments, which sadly fashioned dangerous villains, such as Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), and shaped treacherous competitors like Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell ). Unlike so many action sequels that simply repeat its predecessor, only bigger and louder, Iron Man 2 smartly springboards from the events of the first movie and focuses on the repercussions. (Movie Rating: 3.5/5)
Iron Man 3
To be honest, I was not entirely satisfied with the third installment in the Iron Man series the first time I watched it in the early summer of 2013. Like many comic book fans, a major part of the excitement in watching the action blockbuster — other than seeing Mr. Downey behave like a pompous, witty smart-aleck, of course — was seeing our heavy metal hero go toe-to-toe against one of his greatest foes, the infamous terrorist Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). To the surprise of everyone, he is not the character from the comics, which was greeted with as much disdain as it was applauded. I was sort of in the middle but leaning a bit more towards unhappy. However, over time and after some reflection, I've slowly changed my position, much of which is due to being a fan of the director, Shane Black. His sarcastic wit and signature style is evident throughout the film, most notably setting the story he co-wrote with Drew Pearce around the Christmas holidays. Revisiting the second sequel with a more open mind, I can now say I rather like and better appreciate Iron Man 3.
First, I must admit enjoying Black and Pearce repeating the same formula as the sequel. The events of the movie before this one — that being, the first Avengers — had lasting psychological effects upon Stark. And as he did in Iron Man 2, his stubbornly proud and arrogant personality prevents him from seeking the proper help, asking those closest to him for support or even admitting he has a problem in the first place, which in turn puts a strain on his relationship with others or puts them in harm's way. Again, the metal suit becomes metaphorical for concealing the pain he's suffering, hiding any hint of vulnerability behind a cold, hard, emotionless mask. Part of this new false-face personality of Stark is also acknowledging the demons of his past, not the ghosts created by his father but those he personally shaped, such as Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) and Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). This is where the role of the Mandarin becomes significant and more telling than I initially gave it credit for. He is another false face, a stereotypical Other that feeds into our collective fears and turns out false. After giving it a second chance, I'm happy with Iron Man 3. (Movie Rating: 4/5)
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Iron Man Trilogy arrives on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray courtesy of German distributor Concorde Home Entertainment as a six-disc combo pack. Inside an attractive, black steelbook case, three triple-layered UHD100 discs stacked on top of each sit comfortably opposite a three Region Free, BD50 discs also stacked on top of each other. Although the steelbook is nice, the arrangement of the discs is disappointing because it only increases the risk of scratching them. After a German preview of John Wick 2 – Ultra HD, the UHD discs go straight to a menu screen with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
Not only is Iron Man the first Marvel feature to land on Ultra HD, it is also arguably the worst-looking title to crash and burn on the still-growing format. Sadly, the pompous, arrogant billionaire turned superhero shows up with an ill-equipped and ill-prepared HEVC H.265 encode, offering the most negligible of improvements.
A couple, rather minor sequences seem a tad sharper, but on the whole, the 2160p video suffers from poor resolution and a great deal of blurriness throughout. It doesn't help that the darkest shadows tend to look like giant blobs crushing most background information, and overall brightness levels are much too strong. On the other end of the spectrum, contrast runs much hotter than required, blowing out the highlights, creating a bit of posterization and ruining the finer details, leaving us with flat and bland 4K presentation. Likewise, colors appear largely dull, except for a couple splashes of over-saturated primaries that look unnatural, and there is a noticeable red-push in the flesh tones. Suggesting Concorde Home Entertainment used a poor quality 2K master for this, film grain has somehow been grossly exaggerated, looking like mosquito noise in several poorly-lit scenes or as those digitally added in bright, daylight sequences.
This is an example of producers hitting the auto button and calling good. (Video Rating: 2/5)
Iron Man 2
Unfortunately, much like its predecessor, the comic book sequel fails to stick the superhero landing, offering a mild upgrade over its Blu-ray counterpart. In terms of resolution, the strong H.265 encode is slightly sharper and more detailed that the first movie, but overall, it's fairly soft and largely hazy, looking like a weak upconversion. The grain structure appears unnatural and thicker than normal, making much of the 2.40:1 image seem noisy and coarse. Contrast is slightly improved, providing cleaner and brighter whites throughout while specular highlights along the edges of metallic objects shimmer with a tad of realism, and viewers can better see the details in Whiplash's electrified whips. The 2160p video also comes with much better brightness levels and shadow delineation, but once again, blacks occasionally look like dark blobs that tend to engulf some of the finer details. Despite offering a slightly wider array of colors, the overall palette isn't much of an upgrade, and in fact, the 4K presentation appears oversaturated, making actors seem sunburnt. (Video Rating: 3/5)
Iron Man 3
Finally, the third and final installment in the superhero series delivers the goods with a strong and generally satisfying HEVC H.265 encode although it still falls short of truly besting its HD counterparts. Nevertheless, being the newest in the batch, which was shot digitally at nearly 3K and later mastered in a 2K digital intermediate, the 2160p video boasts better clarity and detailing of various objects throughout the Stark home and the Mandarin's mansion. The picture is not always consistent, however, with some sequences looking poorly-resolved with grain levels noticeably spiking. Thankfully, it's not as bad as the other two movies while maintaining good contrast and brightness balance for a majority of the runtime, delivering richer blacks and shadows that don't engulf the finer details. Specular highlights provide a bit more visibility during intense flashes of light, such as when Extremis soldiers explode. Speaking of which, those orange blazes appear more brilliant, bursting with a fiery radiance that almost looks like lava. Taking place during Christmas, the rest of the photography also shines with a wider, more lavish display of colors. (Video Rating: 3.5/5)
Although the movie comes with a new DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, it really isn't all that much different than the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 iteration heard on the original Blu-ray release. It remains a highly active, action-packed extravaganza with lots of minor discrete effects occupying the surrounds when Stark fights to save the world. Debris flies in every direction, the chatter of crowds fills the room, the noise of city traffic feels immersive, and even a few atmospherics participate in keeping the soundfield engaging and satisfying. Imaging is broad and spacious thanks to plenty of background activity across all three front channels and a detailed, extensive mid-range. Dialogue remains distinct and precise throughout, even during the loudest, craziest segments. If there are any differences, negligible as they may be, it would be in the low-end, which delivers powerful, wall-rattling bass in explosions and metal punches. (Audio Rating: 5/5)
Iron Man 2
Justifying Stark's maverick recklessness, the sequel takes on various threats from all sides with the same DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack found on the standard Blu-ray release, which is not bad, but it would have been nice to equip Iron Man with one of those fancy object-based audio formats. In either case, the design is littered with a variety of noises and activity through much of the movie, but action sequences are, of course, where all the excitement can be heard and felt. If it's not Stark taking to the sky, zooming flawlessly from one speaker to the next, then it's Vanko's drones in the last quarter of the movie filling the room with massive explosions, gunfire and zipping through obstacles. The soundstage delivers an excellently detailed mid-range and magnificent balance between the channels with superb acoustical detailing and crystal clear dialogue in the center. Most impressive is an authoritative, wall-rattling low-end that'll test the limits of one's subwoofer, providing a room-shaking boom to the explosions and a threatening oomph to the drone's landing. (Audio Rating: 4.5/5)
Iron Man 3
Like the previous two movies, the second sequel flies into action with the same DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack as its Blu-ray counterpart, which is not a bad thing. Only, since the movie was mastered with Dolby Atmos in mind, it would have been nice to enjoy the action with an upgraded audio. Nevertheless, the thunderous design employs every channel in the system, and action sequences erupt with debris flying in every direction and raining around the listener. Quieter scenes meanwhile continue with a variety of amusing atmospherics, maintaining a satisfying soundfield. Imaging also feels spacious and welcoming, littered with convincing off-screen activity and fluid movement between the channels. When the story intensifies, the mid-range exhibits superb clarity and detailing, allowing every crunch, rattle and clunk of metal smashing into metal. Amid the ear-piercing mayhem, vocal remain intelligible and distinct while a palpable low-end delivers a booming, authoritative weight to every punch, explosion and crash. (Audio Rating: 5/5)
I Am Iron Man (HD):
The Journey Begins (21 min).
The Suit that Makes Iron Man (10 min).
The Walk of Destruction (22 min).
Grounded in Reality (15 min).
Beneath the Armor (16 min).
Fine Tuning and Premiere (8 min).
Visual Effects (HD, 27 min).
Robert Downey Jr. Screen Test (HD, 6 min).
The Actor's Process (HD, 4 min).
Deleted Scenes (HD, 24 min).
Iron Man 2
S.H.I.E.L.D. Data Vault (HD): "Enhanced Viewing Mode."
PiP - Previsuzalization and Animatics (HD).
The Making of Iron Man 2 (HD, 87 min).
Featurettes (HD, 31 min).
The Stark Expo
Practical Meets Digital
Working with DJ AM
Music Video (HD): AC/DC performs "Shoot to Thrill."
Deleted Scenes (HD).
Concept Art Galleries (HD).
Iron Man 3
Deconstructing the Scene: Attack on Air Force One (9 min).
Iron Man 3 Unmasked (11 min).
Audi Featurette (1 min).
Gag Reel (5 min).
Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter (15 min).
Deleted and Extended Scenes (HD).
Despite not being as popular or recognizable as other Marvel Comics properties back in 2008, Iron Man became a box-office hit, essentially kickstarting the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe and igniting mainstream moviegoers' love affair for everything superhero. Much of that is due to Robert Downey Jr.'s excellent performance as the snarky, wisecracking Tony Stark and a story that made the character into someone audiences can root for, in spite of his many humanizing flaws. Two sequels quickly followed which were not quite as good, but were satisfying nonetheless by focusing on the evolution and growth of the character.
In Germany, the trilogy arrives on Ultra HD Blu-ray inside an attractive black steelbook, the first in the official MCU to do so, but the 4K presentation is sadly a bit disappointing, offering a very mild upgrade over its Blu-ray counterparts. The supplements remain the same, making the overall package very tempting. But frankly, it probably would be best to wait for a proper stateside release. Then again, loyal fans hungry for some 4K Marvel will probably bite the bullet on this one.