Initial advertisements for "Iron Man: Extremis" made it look like Warren Ellis' six issue comic arc would be adapted in full CGI animated form. However, the final product is in fact another motion comic presentation, almost identical in style to Marvel's previous offering of "Astonishing X-Men." The big difference this time however, is the 3D, CGI rendering of Iron Man, replacing the original artwork as well as some other elements. The offering as a whole is not as solid a product as "Astonishing X-Men" for a number of reasons.
Running around 80 minutes, "Extremis" is broken into six individual parts, each with their own set of opening and closing credits. While the feature was initially sold in installments via iTunes, I and I'm sure other fans would much rather have a DVD that presents the story as a continuous entity, as having to sit through two to three minutes of repetitive credits every six to ten minutes really hurts the pacing of the story as well as it's ability to keep viewers fully invested.
The story, as mentioned above, was written by comic book legend Warren Ellis and for those expecting anything similar to the feature film adaptations by Jon Favreau may be very disappointed. "Extremis" is a much smaller feeling arc, with only two action set pieces, one midway through the program and one at the end; instead the story explores the characters of Tony Stark as well as some spots of insight into the mysterious villain, Mallen. Mallen, a conservative extremist, is the guinea pig for a strain of the Super Soldier Serum known as Extremis. Once the serum alters our crazed foe forever, he embarks on a wave of destruction against the government and innocent civilians alike, aided by his near supernatural powers including super strength and pyrokinesis. Initially Tony is called into investigate the theft of the serum by a scientist friend Maya Hansen.
Ellis' story takes an almost leisurely pace before Mallen and Stark face off for the first time, allowing viewers a glimpse into the mind of Stark via two notable scenes. The first is an interview for a documentary by an ultra liberal filmmaker, who tries to eviscerate Stark on camera, accusing him of war profiteering, immediately following a very friendly introduction off-camera. Ellis' political statements are very obvious, and Stark's calm, collected verbal destruction of the filmmaker is very similar to the eventual final confrontation with Fallen. Stark represents the middle ground of political ideology in the story, demonstrating the faults of extremism on both sides of the fence; the Extremis strain itself though is a fly in the ointment that ultimately forces Iron Man to understand that unchecked extremism sometimes must be met with equal or greater retaliation.
The second scene, taking place between Stark, Maya, and an older mentor figure. Here Ellis captures the strong distinction between Stark the man, and Stark the man behind Iron Man. The mentor brings Stark down a peg, pointing out how is flashy empire doesn't benefit humanity nearly as much as the quiet, uncelebrated work of scientists such as Maya. The more Stark feels the burden of humanity from mentors as well as board members, the more he's compelled to make his persona as Iron Man a legacy that will help mankind for as long as possible. When it comes time for Stark to don the suit though, "Extremis" isn't nearly as exciting.
The motion comic style is extremely effective for the character moments, but the uneven approach to action, namely the use of the 3D CGI models for various elements, cheapens the overall effectiveness of the motion comic format. In "Astonishing X-Men" the original artwork was slightly animated, but at its core it was the original artist's work. Here the original Iron Man artwork is thrown out for a well-animated CGI model that sticks out like a sore thumb, especially when put up against a still 2D Mallen. Most criminal though are the minor CGI elements such as trucks that have the visual quality of something not from 2010, but the mid-90s. These few moments instantly pull viewers out of the action to either cringe, laugh or a combination of both. To further complicate matters, the action scenes are very much paint-by-numbers, with the first being obviously nothing more than a set-up for the final character development and the more exciting, but still pedestrian and brief last battle.
Ultimately, "Iron Man Extremis" is an enjoyable but flawed story and motion comic presentation. Voice acting is generally solid, with the actor handling Mallen being the weakest link. There are a few overplayed moments, especially in the beginning, with the actress playing Maya sounding like she didn't have a full grasp on her character. Fortunately, the voice actor handling Tony captures the cool, confident, and brilliant aspects of the character as well as the doubt and sometimes self-hatred. The actors all are best when they are given Ellis' best material to work with: the dialogue driven moments, which are arguably the most fascinating and engaging aspects of the production, mixing a moderate (in the political sense) ideology with some well-developed character study. Had the action just been a little more refined, this would be a classic Iron Man tale.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is another disappointment, very similar to that of "Astonishing X-Men." Adi Granov's art is well captured and the animated additions are all tastefully done, but from a technical standpoint, there are some glaring problems. Aliasing is a problem and compression artifacts are visible, especially in patches of solid color amidst heavy action. It looks like Shout has taken the same transfers meant for internet sales and slapped them on a DVD, which is unacceptable. I can't imagine the original video source features these defects.
The English stereo audio track is much better, with clear dialogue and distortion free effects. The musical score is not as overpowering as "Astonishing X-Men" while sound effects do their best to create a living environment.
The extras consist of a brief look at the making of feature via "Behind the Scenes: Iron Man Extremis." The motion comic process as well as voice acting are covered here. The most substantial extra is "A Conversation with Extremis Artist Adi Granov" as he discusses the original project as well as his feelings towards the motion comic conversion. "Marvel Super Heroes: What The?" is another unfunny viral video type feature. Last but not least is a "Visual History of Iron Man," music video featuring scenes from the program, and original trailer.
Featuring the same technical problems as "Astonishing X-Men," "Iron Man: Extremis" is a generally well made, but flawed production. Hardcore of the hero will likely enjoy the production much more than the casual fan of the movie incarnation. The character heavy approach and brief instances of graphic violence also limit the appeal of the program to an older audience; in short, kids will find this terribly dull. Recommended.