Chris Campbell of Anime Rest Stop has braved the Otaku overbelly in order to give us a review of Iron Man: Rise of the Technovore.
Rise of the Technovore is the latest in a series of Marvel projects brought to us by the Japanese studio Madhouse. Its April 16th release was intended to get the early jump on this week’s Iron Man 3 craze. Does it fit the bill? Why don’t I just let Chris tell you…
First, as a long-time viewer of Japanese Animation, I am honored and proud to be invited to Action-A-Go-Go!
As movie goers and fans prepare for another repulsor blasting barrage (yes, I’m running with that) of comic book action on the big screen from the House of Ideas, the Armored Avenger who spearheaded Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues his adventures in anime form in Iron Man: Rise of the Technovore. This marks the fifth entry in Marvel’s Anime efforts with Madhouse Studios and Sony Japan. Similar to his live action exploits, Iron Man was the first to launch the Marvel anime universe that included Wolverine, X-Men, and Blade.
Comic book scribe Warren Ellis (Iron Man: Extremis, Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E., etc.) who headlined the Iron Man anime series that kicked off the run of Marvel’s Japanese invasion is absent this time around, leaving Brandon Auman of Iron Man: Armored Adventures, Dante’s Inferno: An Animated Epic, and Dead Space: Aftermath to helm this project (Jeph Loeb and Dan Buckley, advocates of the anime effort since Iron Man, are attached as Executive Producers). Further, Hiroshi Hamasaki, known to otaku the world over for his solid work on Texhnolyze, Steins:Gate, and Shiguri: Blood Frenzy, is leading the charge as Director with a Screenplay from writer Kengo Kaji (Wolverine, Lycanthrope Leo, Tokyo Gore Police). Also, compared to the first anime, which was a television series that aired on Animax in Japan and G4 in the United States, this movie is a straight to [home] video release as of this writing. Will everyone’s favorite shell-head live to rise or plunge harder than the Helicarrier on a good day? But enough of the rabble-rousing, let’s get to it!
Our story begins with a tepid and dreary monologue narrated by a young woman while ants and moths scurry about a lone road. As the title screen cuts in between the monologue, a young man watches from the road as two objects in the distance soar across the sky. Coming off the heels of his self-titled anime series Iron Man, billionaire Tony Stark and James “Rhodey” Rhodes (War Machine) have a little aerial sparring match prior to Tony showcasing a new satellite that will assist S.H.I.E.L.D. in its efforts to monitor all nefarious activity across the globe. However, before it launches, a mysterious mercenary group called The Raiders try to interrupt the launch, prompting Iron Man and War Machine to battle the invaders. However, the conflict reveals an armored clad young man leading the charge who tells Tony that the Technovore, a mysterious biotech virus, will set the world straight with its godlike ability. With that revelation in mind, chaos erupts for Tony: The Good News is the satellite, H.O.W.A.R.D., (named after his dear old dad) managed to launch into orbit despite the ruckus. What’s the Bad News? His dear friend and comrade in arms War Machine was taken out in the midst of the madness along with three hundred civilians. As a result, Tony finds himself on the other side of the law. With Nick Fury and his S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Black Widow and Hawkeye (Avengers Mania, Brother) on his metallic heels and the possibility of the organization A.I.M. being involved, Tony finds help in the form of The Punisher. After much bickering between the two and the quickest investigation possible, Tony learns that the mysterious young man, who was present at the very beginning of the film, is none other than Ezekial Stane, Son of The Iron Monger. Cue the guitar riffs!
The animation in this feature is very good thanks to Japanese Animation Studio Madhouse ( Demon City Shinjuku, Ninja Scroll, Black Lagoon, Paprika and Summer Wars). From Tony Stark’s suave appearance mimicking the likeness of Robert Downey, Jr. to the luscious curves of Black Widow as well as the kinetic firing of Hawkeye’s arrows and Punisher’s array of firearms, Madhouse manages to capture the details that make the Marvel characters fun to watch. They even managed to capture Hawkeye’s modern day look that was originally cultivated in the Ultimate Marvel Comic Universe and made famous in 2012’s summer blockbuster. Even Obidiah Stane, the Iron Monger, is captured in the similar vain of JeffBridge’s appearance in this film. Also, Sasha Hammer, granddaughter of Justin Hammer, appears beside Ezekial in his efforts to harness the Technovore entity (she’s also the one who delivered the crazy monologue that started this circus).
The storytelling is scattershot, but manages to pull from Marvel’s immense history and make
something that skates between both worlds. Compared to the previous Iron Man anime, Rise of the Technovore takes more from recent Marvel Comics, specifically The Invincible Iron Man, and manages to mesh it with ideas from Madhouse staff to create this movie. A good portion of the story itself tries to emphasize how much Tony cares about his fallen comrade only to have it feel rushed and disjointed for running time. The other half pretty much showcases why Iron Man can handle the best of them, including allies turned enemies. Although Black Widow and Hawkeye are bit characters and The Punisher (despite a show-stealing entrance in the movie) is one dimensional, the director keeps the focus on Tony and Ezekiel Stane.
In addition to the crisp and dynamic action on screen (when it’s present) as well as the cheesecake factor of Pepper Potts in a bikini in her reintroduction since her anime debut and Black Widow’s barely zipped top, Iron Man: Rise of the Technovore boasts a plentiful voice cast. Much like Ellis’ absence, Adrian Pasdar (Heroes) did not return to play IronMan. Our armored clad hero is played by Matthew Mercer (ThunderCats, Fate/Zero) this time around while anime voice stalwarts Kari Walghren (FLCL, Blood+); Troy Baker (Persona 4 Franchise, Trinity Blood); Kate Higgins (Eureka Seven, Code Geass); and Tara Platt (Buso Renkin, Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn) join JB Blanc(Hellsing anime franchise and The Count of Monte Cristo), James C. Matthews III (Avengers: Earth’s Mightest Heroes, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater), Clare Grant (Robot Chicken, MAD) John Eric Bently (TRON: Uprising, The First Family) and Eric Bauz (Ren & Stimpy, Ben 10) to round out of the roster as Maria Hill, Hawkeye, Pepper Potts, Sasha Hammer, War Machine, Black Widow, Nick Fury, and Ezekial Stane respectively. Norman Reedus of The Walking Dead, The Boondock Saints, and Blade II notoriety plays “The Punisher” Frank Castle, who is randomly thrown into this plot to aid Tony in clearing his name and stopping the Technovore from destroying the earth. For those who follow Marvel comics, this is a very strange alliance that is short lived and only serves to progress the plot of the story. However, Norman Reedus manages to do a passable job as the skull-wearing vigilante. Each performance is not bad, but not the best given their prior work or the work of other voice talent who have handled past incarnations of these iconic characters.
However, Madhouse is not without its faults. The Punisher’s transition to anime is sufficient, but slightly off scale while Pepper Potts mirrors Black Widow in facial structure (even this reviewer had to blink twice before realizing the slight tint in hair color makes a difference in the characters here). The mechanized villains are given clunky appearances that are at best forgettable. The Raiders looks like random rejects from Robotech (Macross for those in the know) while Ezekiel Stane, an established villain made famous in Matt Fraction’s The Order and The Invincible Iron Man, falls victim to one of the worst modern anime tropes, appearing not as a raven-haired villain out for revenge and personal conquest, but as a vengeful, androgynous beautiful young man or “Bishonen” with an effeminate bodysuit, melancholy eyes and a sanctimonious swagger most would find in the target demographic of Hot Topic.
Rise of the Technovore is a reach, even for a Marvel property. It has some worthwhile elements, but not enough to keep it afloat compared to its live action properties. Rise of the Technovore slightly innovates, but very much imitates other action titles. From the introduction of the H.O.W.A.R.D. satellite (aka Skynet Lite) to the general public that just doesn’t seem to be too concerned about big brother (S.H.I.E.L.D.) spying on them above to Nick Fury’s clichéd diatribe of why Tony can’t go after those responsible for his friend’s apparent death feels like something pulled out of the last twenty years of action films. Normally, that would be a good thing, especially here at Action A-Go-Go where the history of action films is greatly honored. But improper execution, stilted dialogue, and convoluted pacing prevents the efforts from fully paying off. In addition to all of that, the score of the film is uninspired with repetitive guitar riffs and basic orchestra Although the final act of the movie was strong and scenes in the second act were good (especially the Black Widow and Hawkeye team efforts), it could not make up for the weaker aspects of the film given its eighty seven minute running time.
Sadly, Iron Man Rise of the Technovore joins Batman: Gotham Knights and Rurouni Kenshin: New Kyoto Arc in the hard luck heap of tie-in products that fail to compete, and compare to their respective (and successful) live action counterparts or the comic book material that inspired them in the first place. Iron Man: Rise of the Technovore also drives home a solid point: By attempting to please everyone, you please no one in the end. Is this a movie for anime fans, comic book fans, fans of Marvel characters, or all of the above? Lastly, the movie is not a horrible title by any means despite this review, but simply feels incomplete and unfocused in comparison to other Marvel animated properties. There are sound ideas that fly up at a moment’s notice that just don’t seem to develop while other scenes linger agonizingly to its tepid point. In hindsight, it is probably the best feature in comparison to majority of the Lions Gate associated Marvel releases years ago. In short, only the mightiest of Marvel fans should seek this out for the crisp animation, feasible voice work (both in English and Japanese tracks), and the fact of seeing your favorite Marvel characters portrayed by some of the best. For all the casuals, you can wait for the trade (better known as a rental).
Not Action A-Go-Go Approved