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Cartoon Graveyard: The Unremarkable Iron Man

July 9, 2009

We’re in the middle of something of an anomaly: a summer without many big superhero movies.  That’s probably a good thing, seeing as how The Dark Knight kind of blew everyone out of the water last year, and we could use some time to regroup.  And X-Men Origins: Wolverine didn’t exactly set any precedents outside the realm of convoluted titles. But the onslaught shows no sign of abating.  Sam Raimi and company reportedly filmed (or are still filming, for all I know) two Spider-Man sequels back-to-back, Warner Brothers is probably driving a convoy of semis made of money up to Christopher Nolan’s house as we speak, and Samuel L. Jackson signed a contract to play Nick Fury in up to nine freaking movies.  The latter, of course, stems from his after-the-credits cameo in Iron Man as said spy guy.  Iron Man, whose animated incarnation we examine this week, serves as a good model for superhero movies in general.  It had a strong plot, a well-thought-out emotional arc, plenty of action, and interesting characters.  Above all, it was fun. Not everyone can be Batman, and if they were the movies would be kind of depressing after a while.

Get used to this face, people.

Get used to this face, people.

So surely such an interesting and newly-popular superhero would make a great cartoon protagonist, right?  Well, maybe, but it takes a lot more than that.

Title: Iron Man: Armored Adventures
Network: Nicktoons Network
Summary: Iron Man is a teenager for some reason.

So here’s our central dilemma: Iron Man, in comics and as played by Robert Downey Jr., is a wisecracking, hard-drinking, womanizing supergenius, whose cynicism and self-absorbtion is challenged when he is confronted with the destruction wrought by his inventions.  In Iron Man: Armored Adventures, he’s a teenager whose dad gets murdered and spends his time trying to prove that the obvious villain who now runs his company did it.  It’s a jarring change in character, to the extent that it doesn’t feel like the same character at all.  I’m not sure why the creators of this series felt they needed to turn Iron Man into Spider-Man, but my guess would be demographic pandering (that’s always my guess).  That’s not always a bad thing – X-Men: Evolution pulled off the de-aging thing pretty well – but since Tony Stark’s teen years have never been a big part of his character, it doesn’t make much sense.

The series quickly embraces the Harry Potter Trio.  Tony picks up two best friends, Pepper Potts and James Rhodes, and virtually no other non-villainous characters get names, let alone roles.  To the writers’ credit, they haven’t trotted out a will-they-or-won’t-they romance angle yet (will, it’s always will) but considering the characters’ history, it’s only a matter of time.  I suppose you can’t really fault them, since Iron Man’s been rockin’ the Trio pretty much since his inception, but it’s still not terribly original.

Speaking of characters, it has to be said: Iron Man has some of the lamest villains in all of superherodom.  When you’re making movies, it’s not such a big deal.  You can ditch all but the coolest ones and focus on just one or two.  In comics and cartoons, you gotta keep ‘em coming.  And that’s why you have Iron Man fighting guys with names like Killer Shrike and the Unicorn.  No, really.  The Unicorn.

Shouldn't the point of a head-mounted gun be that you DON'T have to use your hands?

Shouldn't the point of a head-mounted gun be that you DON'T have to use your hands?

The series is computer-animated, which makes for a pretty weird look.  They’re not going for any kind of realism with the people, though, so you get a lot of pretty cartoony-looking 3-D characters.  It takes some getting used to, and actually works pretty well for fight scenes.  But when the majority of your villains are guys in big, bulky machine suits, it all looks kind of ugly.  And ugly is never a good thing in a cartoon.

Your face called, it wants it contours back.

Your face called, it wants its contours back.

Actually, there’s nothing really wrong with Iron Man: Armored Adventures.  Here’s a final bit of criticism that sums up the series: in fights, all Iron Man can really do is fly, punch, and shoot energy beams.  You’d think that such incredibly high-tech armor could do more than that, but so far it hasn’t.  Like the cartoon itself, Iron Man’s armor here is effective, but ultimately unremarkable.

Final Judgment: It’s nothing great, but if you’re bored go ahead and watch it on… wait, Nicktoons Network?  Shit, I’m not paying for fancy-ass cable channels.  To the interwebs!

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