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Iron Man: Rise of Technovore

Sony Pictures // PG-13 // April 16, 2013 // Region 0
List Price: $30.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted April 3, 2013 | E-mail the Author
Iron Man:
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Rise of Technovore
isn't just a title; it's a warning.

Think about it. When was the last time anything, ever with "colon-rise-of-the-something" in the title was any good? G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, The Scorpion King: Rise of a swing and a miss after another. Rise of Technovore, a feature-length anime production by Madhouse, marches right along in that same proud tradition.

Tony Stark (you know, the cool exec with a heart of steel) is on the verge of launching H.O.W.A.R.D., a roving Big Brother spy satellite designed to scan and analyze every square inch of the earth for potential threats. (...and we're supposed to root for this?) Not one to meekly stand behind a console and wait for a button to be pressed, Stark's soaring above the launch facility in his Iron Man armor to ward off any potential threats. Turns out that Ezekiel Stane has his own set of armor, though: a technobiological fusion of man and machine generations from anything Stark could ever hope to envision. Iron Man is so hopelessly outmatched that you can't rightly call it a battle. The facility is reduced to smoldering rubble. James "War Machine" Rhodes -- Stark's closest friend and ally -- is feared dead.

Stark naturally tears off after this sinister new enemy in search of vengeance. The forces of S.H.I.E.L.D. can't allow that because...I don't know, because the screenplay says they can't, I guess, and they attack Iron Man with every weapon in their arsenal. Not only does Stark have to fend off Stane, whose brilliance, resources, technology, and ambition far outstrip his own, but he's pitted against former allies like Hawkeye and Black Widow as well as hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s android warriors. 'Course, Stark still has a couple of phone numbers in his Rolodex, and The Punisher's heavy artillery and Pepper Potts' endless resourcefulness ought to even up the odds at least a little.

Oh, man. That's pretty much the review right there, actually. Rise of Technovore is teeming with some really cool visuals, especially the spastic mecha-type battles that anime does so well, but that's just about the only vaguely positive thing I can think to say about this feature-length misfire. The plot is mostly a bunch of anime tropes lazily stapled together. Pretty much none of the driving motivations
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really make any sense. Iron Man wants to stop the lunatic who slaughtered several hundred innocent people and gunned down his best friend, but S.H.I.E.L.D. puts the kibosh on that because there are rules they have to follow, and plus they don't want the sole surviving witness of the massacre to wind up in the morgue. When Stark blasts off to hunt down Technovore anyway, S.H.I.E.L.D. uses what sure as hell looks like lethal force against the guy they're supposedly trying to protect, their attempts to rein him in without sparking an international incident wind up costing who knows how many billions of dollars in damages, and Zeke Stane is out of play for such a long time that I kind of forgot that S.H.I.E.L.D. wasn't the central villain of the piece for a while there.

Not so much of a surprise that the terrible writing extends to clunky dialogue like "I can already hear the boss dismissing us, sarcastically" and "There's one thing I've finally come to realize. Even with talent, you need chaos to give birth to a dancing star. I'm not sure I have it. Some day, man will no longer give birth to any star." ...what? Pretty much no one has anything resembling a personality, with even the mighty Pepper Potts reduced to eye candy who won't stop yammering on about going on vacation. As a lifelong Marvel zombie, it's kinda neat to see how much stuff from the comics is crammed in here -- S.H.I.E.L.D., the Helicarrier, Nick Fury, Maria Hill, Hawkeye, the Black Widow, The Punisher, Sasha Hammer, Zeke Stane, Rhodey, A.I.M., Pepper Potts -- but Rise of Technovore sort of just throws a lot of them in just for the hell of it. If you're trying to figure out how The Punisher factors into an international spy/sci-fi revenge story about a techno-organic-armor-powered nutjob hellbent on world destruction like any random JRPG villain, then...well, the screenplay's still clumsily working that angle out too.

I really do want to like Iron Man: Rise of Technovore. My inner fanboy loves seeing these familiar characters translated to anime, the designs and action look great, and the way the movie strings together so many genres -- spy intrigue, robot wars, a high-speed car chase, the dreamlike standoff with Stane, an extended climax that's sort of like Dead Space meets Gamera before building to a gloriously insane crescendo -- every last bit of it is right up my alley. Alas, the screenplay's a shitstorm, what passes for plot and characterization are woefully uninvolving, and even though it looks nice, the action throughout Rise of Technovore isn't even enough of a consistent adrenaline rush to function as a turn-your-brain-off empty spectacle. Nah. Just Skip It.

Pop quiz! Which of these screenshots are from the Blu-ray release of Rise of Technovore, and which ones are from the DVD?

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Trick question. Sorry. They're all from the high-def release. As you could probably tell, quite a bit of the animation throughout Rise of Technovore is extremely soft and diffused, and its colors generally look washed out. So, yeah, high definition eye candy it's not so much. To play nicely, I'll lob out a counterpoint with a reasonably sharp screengrab:

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Even at its best, though, this Blu-ray disc doesn't trump what I'd expect out of a really good upconvert. There's zero fine detail, the clarity of the linework is generally fuzzy and indistinct, and the only time the image screams high definition is during the opening and closing titles. Though the results aren't nearly as disappointing as Madhouse's Supernatural anime series, I still wouldn't be surprised to hear that the actual animation was produced in standard def, and the more recognizably HD titles were all added after upconversion.

Iron Man: Rise of Technovore arrives on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc with an AVC encode and an aspect ratio of 1.78:1.

Rise of Technovore boasts three lossless soundtracks. The disc defaults to the movie's original Japanese in 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio, and the English and French tracks drop down to 16-bit. I flipped back and forth
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between the English and Japanese tracks, and although the English dialogue is a little sharper and more natural, the performances are awfully drab. I have a tough time watching anime in anything but Japanese, and not surprisingly, that's a more comfortable fit here too.

I'm about as disappointed with the audio as I am with the visual end of things. Rise of Technovore is surprisingly thin and trebly. It's not one of those soundtracks whose snarl engulfs every square inch of the just sort of disinterestedly limps from each speaker. There are a couple of times when I was impressed with the LFE -- the synth-bass in the score when Technovore first attacks, most memorably -- but otherwise the subwoofer just lets out a half-belch every so often. The audio fails to ratchet up the intensity, and that's especially disappointing in the climax when the entirety of mankind is on the verge of being snuffed out, and the score sounds like I left my iPod playing in the other room. Distinctness and clarity are almost always unremarkable. Even with the endless onslaught of action, few of the effects pack much of a wallop. Dialogue sounds okay, and the surround channels get a good bit of use, but there's nothing that elevates this soundtrack anywhere beyond lackluster.

Along for the ride with those three lossless soundtracks are Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs in Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai. Subtitles are served up in English (traditional and SDH), Chinese (simplified and traditional), French, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai.

Not much.
  • Conceptual Art Gallery (HD): I stopped
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    counting at 50, but there are somewhere around 65 model sheets and various bits of conceptual art here.

  • Tale of Technovore (8 min.; HD): This love letter to Madhouse gushes about how brilliantly Iron Man translates to anime, the benefits of going feature-length and targeting an older crowd, and incorporating many different elements from many different Marvel comics into the movie.

  • S.H.I.E.L.D.: Protecting the Marvel Universe (8 min.; HD): The disc's other featurette is a S.H.I.E.L.D. primer that breezes through the spy/police organization's roles in the comics and on the silver screen, and there are brief introductions to Nick Fury, Maria Hill, Hawkeye, Black Widow, and the Helicarrier if you need 'em.

Iron Man: Rise of Technovore comes packaged in an embossed slipcover, and there's an UltraViolet code lovingly tucked inside.

The Final Word
I'm pretty much the target demographic for a genre-hopping Marvel anime with oodles of four-color cameos and Shellhead duking it out with hundreds of robots, but Iron Man: Rise of Technovore is a misfire on just about every conceivable level. Skip It.
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