Iron Man: Rise of Technovore opens with a bang: Iron Man and his buddy War Machine protecting a revolutionary new satellite from some mysterious armored menace. The two heroes zip through the sky, blowing things up with aplomb, and sniping at each other with childish tough-guy dialogue. It’s not high art, but it works... until it doesn’t. Nothing that follows captures that dopey energy of a good Saturday morning cartoon, making the rest of the movie a chore to sit through.
This animated film (from Madhouse, most famous for its seminal anime classic Ninja Scroll) seems to fit right in with Marvel Studios continuity, pitting Stark against Ezekiel Stane, the son of Obadiah Stane, the villain in the first Iron Man film. The younger Stane is using a techno-organic living armor called the Technovore to threaten the whole world for taking pride in what he feels are inferior technological breakthroughs. In Iron Man and War Machine’s first tussle with the Technovore, War Machine is taken out fairly quickly and S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t fully buy that Tony wasn’t responsible for the whole thing somehow. This puts Stark on the run, with Hawkeye and Black Widow on his tail, while he tries to unravel the mystery of the Technovore (even briefly enlisting the aid of the Punisher while he’s trying to keep a low profile).
The dialogue is either nebulous to a fault (“Even with talent you need chaos to give birth to a dancing star!” says one of the bad guys) or awkwardly on the nose (“I learned long ago not to be stupid!” declares Tony Stark, without a trace of irony). Dig this exchange between hero and villain during a key battle scene:
Stane: “Do you know what will be written on the brass plate within your museum? Here lies... a fragment of Iron Man!”
Iron Man: “I don't want to put the curators of the museum through all of that trouble!"
Stane: “Ah, yes, well, it's time for good-bye, Tony Stark."
And so on and so forth. This is all made worse by the fact that corners are cut for the actual animation itself, so many of these clunkers are delivered as weirdly halting voice-overs over close-ups of characters’ eyes. There’s nothing less interesting in an animated feature than slow pans over blinking eyes, and, boy does Rise of the Technovore have a lot of those. Couple that with a mostly gray and brown color palette and this is one drab-looking superhero movie.
I was hoping for bigger action set pieces between the stale parts, but even those moments lack thrills. There are bargain-basement nods (or rip-offs, if you’re not feeling generous) to bits of more famous anime like Neon Genesis Evangelion that only serve to make those scenes feel all the more like a copy of a copy of a copy. You’d have to be the most forgiving Marvel fan in the world to think that Rise of Technovore delivers on action in any way.
An argument could be made that this just isn’t for me. I’m a 37-year-old man with tastes different than the intended young male audience, but I still read Iron Man comics. On occasion, I still see animated cartoons that do work (most of DC’s adaptations through Warner Bros. animation are fairly solid; some of its TV work is actually pretty outstanding). What I’m saying is I can get into a good cartoon sometimes, even as an “old” man. Iron Man: Rise of Technovore is not a good cartoon. It’s a deflated, surprisingly pretentious attempt at injecting Iron Man with a cheap dose of Japanese flavor. If you’re really so starved for Iron Man before the release of Iron Man 3, I suggest spending the 88 minutes of Technovore’s running time reading old Iron Man comics instead.
Iron Man: Rise of Technovore arrives on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD on April 16. Iron Man 3 arrives in theaters on May 3, 2013.