This time around, we’re not looking at another venture with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Instead, we’ve got a hero who’s the head of a multi-billion dollar conglomerate and has hundreds of armored suits to fit every crime-busting situation. A year before RDJ made him uber-famous on the big screen, he had his own animated solo outing called…
Originally released on January 23, 2007, this was the first entry to just focus on a single Marvel hero. This one is also the longest film of the series at 1 hour, 23 minutes, beating out our seventh entry by a full two minutes. Either way, let’s dive into this venture with the Armored Avenger himself.
Following the opening credits, we begin in China where a massive historical project in well underway. As one worker is taking care of a large statue, he starts hearing mystical murmurings. He proceeds to investigate while continuing his job. Suddenly, the statue’s eyes light up and scares the man. He proceeds to fall off the scaffolding before running away and screaming in terror about “The Mandarin”.
Overseeing the site for Stark Enterprises is James Rupert Rhodes a.k.a. Rhodey (voiced by Rodney Saulsberry). He’s informed by Mr. Lee that their excavations are behind schedule and that the upcoming rains threaten to ruin the entire project. Rhodey explains that their delays are being caused by numerous raids, courtesy of the Jade Dragons, despite the promise of security from his work partner Tony. Shortly afterwards, the latest supply of “liquid steel” is delivered onto the site. Rhodey tells Mr. Lee that it will help raise the temple up towards ground level. Afterwards, he looks over the electronic manifest and notices that weapons were also ordered onto the site. After receiving the supplies, he looks inside and discovers that the firearms are gone.
Just as he’s about to contact Tony, the site is suddenly pummeled by a pair of explosions. It turns out to be the Jade Dragons who have attacked with rocket launchers before disappearing in the smoke. Rhodey managed to survive the surprise attack, but finds the majority of the workers to either be injured or dead. With the grave news at hand, he proceeds to make the call.
However, it turns out that Tony Stark (voiced by Marc Worden) is the middle of some hot-tub lovin’ with a lady. Fortunately, Rhodey is able to give him the bad news. With the attacks constantly leaving the site defenseless, he asks why he was denied their weapons shipment. However, Tony says that he didn’t authorize any such cargo due to the risk of it getting stolen and putting innocent lives in danger. With Rhodey asking for support, he proceeds to tell him that he’ll fly out to the excavation site as soon as possible.
Later, Tony arrives back at Stark Tower where his personal assistant Virginia “Pepper” Potts (voiced by Elisa Gabrielli) tells him that he’s late for an important meeting. He then arrives in the meeting room where his father Howard Stark (voiced by John McCook) and the board of directors await him. One of the directors named Boyer (voiced by Stephen Mendillo) proceeds to berate him for not only having the freedom to run his own advanced technologies division, but for starting up the costly excavation in China and spending millions of dollars on a “secret project” without first seeking approval from the board. However, Tony states that the Chinese government is being grateful enough to give the company lucrative contacts for their efforts. Also, he states that his project will greatly help Stark Industries moving forward. Despite that, Boyer motions for Tony to be relieved of his current duties and for his advanced technologies division to get shut down. As such, the board unanimously votes in favor of the decision. From there, the scene ends with Tony furiously saying that without him, his father will end up burying the company before taking his leave.
Back in China, Rhodey and his team begin the process of bringing the Mandarin’s Temple up from the ground. The workers proceed to use sonic cannons to expand the liquid steel, causing the foundation to rise towards the surface.
However, the leader of the Jade Dragons named Wong Chu (voiced by James Sie) oversees the operations from afar as he prepares his group for attack. Just then, he confronts fellow member Li Mei (voiced by Gwendoline Yeo) who tells him that she refuses to take innocent lives. However, Wong Chu reminds her that anyone who raises the Mandarin’s Temple is an enemy to their own kind and that if she doesn’t go on this mission, he’ll personally kill her.
Meanwhile, the temple is fully-risen towards ground level. Just as Mr. Lee reminds Rhodey that the building serves as a reminder of the Mandarin’s tyrannical age, they find themselves under attack as the Jade Dragons begin their assault. After ordering Mr. Lee and his workers to run, Rhodey and Li Mei accidentally cross paths with each other. He manages to disarm her before knocking her out with a swift punch, but a member of the Jade Dragons uses his gun to deliver a blindside hit that knocks him out cold. Later in Stark Tower, Pepper walks in on Tony’s shower time to deliver the bad news: Rhodey is missing and every last worker is dead.
Following a quick scene where Rhodey finds out that he’s only the linchpin towards kidnapping a certain someone, we cut to a nearby village where Tony has arrived with an armored convoy in the hopes of launching a successful rescue mission. However, things start heading south when a big rig blocks the road and forces them to head down a side street. Tony takes notice how there doesn’t seem to be anyone around despite it being the middle of a busy day in town. Just then, the Jade Dragons launch a surprise attack as they easily take down the surrounding armored vehicles with rocket launchers. The troops try to fight back, but are easily overwhelmed. Suddenly, Tony spots a small rocket heading his way. He takes cover as the projectile hits his armored vehicle and explodes, leaving him in a weakened daze before he passes out.
Later, he regains some consciousness and discovers a monk pulling a piece of shrapnel out of his chest before healing him up. After he sees that Rhodey is alive, he overhears Wong Chu’s confrontation with the monk. After being informed that Tony will survive despite some significant damage to his heart, Wong Chu tells the monk that if Stark doesn’t pull through, he will be killed.
Shortly after leaving their prisoners, Wong Chu confronts Li Mei and berates her for showing signs of sympathy towards Tony and wonders why she doesn’t show this same level of defiance on the battlegrounds. After she states that there’s things about herself that he’ll never understand, Wong Chu grabs her arm and shows her dragon tattoo as a reminder of her “responsibility”. Li Mei states that it’s the only thing that keeping her alive before she storms off.
Back at the Temple, dark clouds and some fog start to form in the vicinity. Suddenly, four pillars surrounding the Mandarin’s statue become enveloped in various elements. Shortly afterwards, four humanoid figures emerge from their stands. It turns out to be the Elementals as a member of the Jade Dragons watches their resurrections from afar. He manages to radio in to Wong Chu and tell him that they’ve returned in order to embark on their “quest for the rings”. Just then, the fog rolls onto his legs as the Elementals reach him and kill him. Wong Chu overhears this and becomes furious towards what has transpired.
Back in New York City’s Stark Tower, a lawyer tells Howard that Tony’s disappearance may be beneficial for the company since the Chinese government is questioning them on the fact that their own weapons have ended up in the hands of the Jade Dragons. Howard is then told that if he starts getting blamed for this incident, the board will cut all ties with him.
Back at the Jade Dragon’s base, Tony wakes up as Rhodey tells him that some damage has occurred on his heart and that he used his military medical skills to construct an iron lung in order to keep him alive. James then tells him that the monk named Ho Yen was ultimately the one who saved his life. Tony thanks him before passing out from exhaustion.
Later, he wakes up and meets Li Mei as she helps out in his recovery. He tries to ask why he and Rhodey are prisoners, but she immediately takes her leave. While Tony asks his comrade about a more “streamline” version of his iron lung, Li Mei proceeds to have a flashback. It turns out that her father was unkind to her, especially since she was the only child of her family. He’s especially jealous in that he’ll never get to see the Mandarin, but she will. Li Mei says that she doesn’t want to have this life, but her father tells her that she has no choice since she must fulfill a purpose.
Meanwhile, the Elementals proceed to attack London, England. People are blown away as the four sentient beings blast through the street and a tube station in order to head down below the surface and discover a ring. Later, Wong Chu sees the news report about the attack. Despite Li Mei telling him that Tony hasn’t fully recovered yet, he proceeds to head towards his prisoner.
Meanwhile, Tony tells Rhodey that they must find out what the Jade Dragons are up to. He then sees Ho Yen to find out why their captors are in their current status. He learns that his own technological prowess has set in motion a series of events to bring back an evil being that the Jade Dragons have fought for 3,000 years to keep hidden from the world: the Mandarin. Ho Yen explains that a prophecy foretold of the temple rising from the depths. From there, his Elementals would search the world for the “Bands of the Underworld”. Once collected, the Mandarin would rise once again. Ho Yen further explains that these “bands” were conduits to the afterlife and four members of the Jade Dragons gave their lives to hide four of them. During all of this, he was also painting a map that pointed out their locations. He then gives it to Tony and finishes his tale by telling him to stop the Elementals’ quest. Only then can the Mandarin’s resurrection be avoided.
Just then, the Jade Dragons burst in just as Tony manages to hide the map in his shirt. Wong Chu demands that he and Rhodey undo the process that caused the Mandarin’s temple to emerge onto the surface. However, Tony says that the fiber-steel that’s holding the building up is pretty much indestructible. Wong Chu doesn’t believe him and says that he’ll provide his prisoners with the tools they’ll need to get it done. He then proceeds to demonstrate what will happen to them should they not meet their demands by aiming his gun at Ho Yen’s head and pulls the trigger. After our heroes agree to his orders, Wong Chu states that they have a week to prepare the technology that undos the fiber-steel or else Rhodey’s life is next. With their lives at stake, they proceed to get to work.
Over the proceeding week, Tony and Rhodey begin to build at a furious pace. At one point, Li Mei enters and ask them what they’re building. Tony says that it’s going to be a micro-biotic nullifier, which should weaken the fiber-steel and send the Mandarin’s temple back to the depths of the Earth.
Later, Tony joins Li Mei on the balcony and asks her why she’s with this band of murderers. She tells him that she has a responsibility that’s been carried down from father to son and that she’s an only child. When she brings up the fact that her deceased dad needed a son, Tony says that they have something in common: Both have disappointed their own fathers in certain ways. While Tony states that he’s uncertain on what to do with his life, Li Mei says that her life doesn’t matter.
We then have a quick scene in the Swiss Alps where the Elementals have discovered a hidden tomb inside of a rock formation. Once inside, they find a skeleton perched on a throne and in posession of another ring. From there, the four beings claim their second Underworld Band.
Back at the Jade Dragons’ headquarters, Tony and Rhodey continue to put the finishing touches on their hardware. Suddenly, Li Mei warns them that Wong Chu is on his way. However, she arrived too late to tell them that since the fierce leader arrives and demands for a demonstration of their micro-biotic nullifier. While Rhodey leads him to the device and begins prepping it, Tony slips into the back for a surprise. After a short while, Wong Chu gets suspicious. He discovers that the nullifier doesn’t even have any components inside. In a furious state, he prepares to shoot Rhodey. Fortunately, Li Mei has a surprise of her own as she shoots Wong Chu twice in the back and kills him.
Just then, the rest of the Jade Dragons arrive. With Li Mei having put her handgun away in time, they think that Rhodey killed their leader. Suddenly, a noise rises up from behind a pile of boxes. Emerging from within is a giant, metal figure and soon enough, the Jade Dragons open fire on their target. However, they’re no match for their towering foe.
Afterwards, Li Mei is approached by the giant being. Fortunately, her fears subside when Tony reveals himself as the man underneath the armored suit. He wants to take her with them, but Li Mei refuses. With time running out until back-up arrives, Rhodey climbs on as the two of them blast off and escape towards the airport where they make it to their plane. From there, they begin their flight back to America.
Back at the Jade Dragons’ headquarters, Li Mei has become the organization’s senior member due to her private murder of Wong Chu. She then opens up a panel and reveals a large mural. One of the Jade Dragons thinks that the armored being looks suspiciously like the Iron Knight, a heroic figure whom the prophecy has claimed will ultimately fight the Mandarin. He believes that their historic foe will finally be defeated once and for all, but Li Mei brings up the fact that it’s unknown who the victor will be and who will end up dead.
Meanwhile, Tony and Rhodey have arrived back in New York City. Just as they disembark from their plane, they’re suddenly surrounded by men in suits and hats. Led by Agent Drake (voiced by John DeMita) of S.H.I.E.L.D., he informs our heroes that they’re under arrest for illegal arms dealing. Tony tries to tell him that their weapons were stolen, but Agent Drake counter-argues by saying that there’s legal documents confirming a sale. Just then, Tony sees his father watching from afar. Stunned by a revelation, he manages to disarm one of the agents before hopping into the car that Rhodey has been placed in. Thanks to its bulletproof design, our two heroes manage to escape again.
Back in China, Li Mei leads the Jade Dragons through the foggy night towards the Mandarin’s Temple. Just as they reach the outskirts, they feel nervous about the “fifth elemental”. Li Mei assures them that their explosives will destroy the building and bring it down. After telling her team that the coast is clear, the Jade Dragons begin setting up their bombs. Suddenly, the winds starts growing louder as Li Mei begins hearing the screams of several members getting attacked. Soon enough, the Jade Dragons find themselves flung around and dragged through the fog. Afterwards, Li Mei senses something behind her. She turns around and looks up to find a large dragon towering above her. As such, the scene ends with her surrendering and begging the monster for forgiveness.
Over in New York City, Tony and Rhodey are hiding out in an alleyway since Agent Drake and his men are guarding the entrances to Stark Tower. Just then, Tony notice a map on a newspaper that showed where the recent attacks happened. He discovers that they’re two of the four locations for the “Bands of the Underworld” that Ho Yen mentioned on his painted map. With the full realization of the situation, Tony plans on going after the third ring.
As such, he calls Pepper from a phone booth and asks to help him get to his office. She says that it’ll be tricky since S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives under Agent Drake are tearing up the place looking for clues. Thanks to a well-placed distraction, she manages to lure the G-Men away before letting Tony and Rhodey in through the outside stairwell.
After retrieving a file from a secret compartment, Tony asks Pepper for the assets of three offshore accounts. From there, he approaches a table with an art piece hanging over it and reveals a secret handprint scanner with voice recognition. It turns out that he was hiding a secret armory with lots of Iron Man armors inside. Tony thanks Pepper for her help before he and Rhodey step inside to allow the secret door to close behind them.
With the multitudes of various suits to explore the numerous parts of the globe revealed as the “secret project”, Tony decides to use the aquatic armor since the third ring is located deep within the Atlantic Ocean. Despite that, Rhodey is mad that his closest friend kept this a secret from him for so long. Tony is even reminded of the time that his own father betrayed him by turning his designs as weapons. Rhodey even states that in the end, he’s no better than his dad. Tony agrees with him and promises that they’ll talk about it after their current situation is behind them. For now, he asks Rhodey for his help through this predicament.
Sometime later, the Elementals arrive at a specific spot over the Atlantic Ocean. With the Wind Elemental creating a funnel around an undersea temple, the Water Elemental proceeds to create a wall of ice around the structure’s outskirts. From there, they head inside to find the body of a monk perfectly preserved and wearing the third ring. Shortly upon entering the domain, the Earth Elemental removes the ring (including the finger) from the body. As such, the monk proceeds to wither into dust as his robe falls to the floor.
Meanwhile, Iron Man arrives at his destination and begins his descent by diving into the oceanic depths. As the Elementals make their way out of the temple, Tony arrives by bursting through the ice funnel as the ocean waters start to pour in. From there, he proceeds to engage the otherworldly beings in a fight. He manages to hang in, despite getting hit back into the ice funnel and allow more ocean water to pour in.
Soon enough, Iron Man proceeds to tangle with the Fire Elemental. Thanks to a series of repulsor rays, he manages to blast her into the water and permanently finishes her off.
However, he gets blindsided by the Earth Elemental as he’s smacked back into the temple before the otherworldly being hits the structure’s roof in order to send massive amounts of debris onto our hero. From there, he joins the two remaining Elementals as they make their escape. Meanwhile, Iron Man is pinned under the rubble. Even worse, his suit has sustained enough damage for the ocean water to start pouring in. With as much strength as he can muster, Iron Man lifts himself up just enough for his feet boosters to propel him out of the structure and back towards the surface.
Later, Tony arrives back at his secret armory in Stark Tower. As he removes his Aquatic Suit, Rhodey sees the physical damage as the sign of a failed mission. Tony tells him that the powerful forces he just faced were as real as Ho Yen described and he also blames himself for setting this whole series of events in motion with the Chinese excavation. Not only that, but he even blames his father for playing a part in this grand scheme.
After changing into street clothes, Tony manages to sneak his way up to his father’s office. Once inside, he blames his father for getting him in trouble with the law by setting up a phony arms deal. Howard says that he only sent the weapons out to China in order to give Rhodey the protection he needed for the excavation and he blames his son for leaving his partner in the lurch. Tony then states if his dad would have stayed out of this business, then the Jade Dragons wouldn’t have gotten their hands on their weapons. He also states that while military contracts started the company, he built it up to the powerhouse business status that it is today without the need for weapons. However, Howard unintentionally strikes a nerve by saying that his own son sounds just like his late wife, Maria. Tony counters by saying that while she did hate working with weapons, she still stood by her husband. When Howard tells his son to stop blaming him for her death since he lost her too, Tony yells that he lost his dad as well before storming out.
Shortly afterwards, he casually walks past Agent Drake who’s getting a drink of water. After noticing Tony, he gives chase. Meanwhile, Stark strolls past Pepper in a nonchalant manner as he makes his way back to his secret armory. Stunned by seeing him again and with Agent Drake in hot pursuit, she proceeds to trip him over with her desk lamp. With Tony making a successful escape, Pepper proceeds to get arrested for aiding a known fugitive.
Shortly after Rhodey discovers that the location of the fourth ring is located inside an active volcano in Central America, Tony informs him on what happened to Pepper as their security cameras show the roof under heavy guard from several agents. Rhodey says that he’ll create a distraction in order to give him the time he needs to blast off. After Tony thanks his partner, they begin to set their plan in motion. As such, Rhodey manages to get the agents to chase after him. From there, Iron Man takes off from the roof.
By the time the sun rises on a new day, the Armored Avenger arrives at his destination. With his sensors detecting the Elementals inside as well as the location of the fourth ring, Iron Man proceeds to create a force field around himself as he plunges into the lava. Meanwhile, the Elementals are searching throughout the volcano. Suddenly, they find a deceased corpse with the fourth ring attached to it.
Just as they’re about to acquire it, Iron Man blasts the ring into the lava with a repulsor beam. With his force field in tact, he proceeds to dive into the molten rock in an attempt to retrieve it. However, the Earth Elemental jumps in as well. Iron Man initially emerges with the ring in his possession, but it eludes his grasp after he has a crash landing back on solid ground. From there, the Earth Elemental acquires it and puts it in his pouch. From there, the two remaining Elementals join him as they proceed to fight Tony. Iron Man finds himself pinned to the wall due to Earth’s mace, but he manages to free himself thanks to his chest beam. However, Wind and Water manage to give him some trouble as the former knocks him onto a platform that drifts out onto the lava.
Iron Man tries to defend himself with several repulsor beams, but the Elementals either dodge them or let the energy blasts pass right through them. From there, Wind manages to get Tony in a full-nelson hold while Water prepares to finish him off. Fortunately, Iron Man escapes by blasting his platform. Wind is forced to dissipate and let him go in order to regain its footing. By the time it reforms itself, Water accidentally stabs his fellow Elemental. As such, Wind becomes encased in ice and ends up meeting its fate in the lava.
From there, Iron Man picks up Water and flies him into the lava. The intense heat becomes too much for it to bear as it ends up melting its way to a permanent end.
After emerging from the lava, Iron Man engages the Earth Elemental. Despite taking a fierce pounding, his persistence pays off as he manages to reacquire the ring before hightailing it out of the volcano.
Unfortunately, the victory ends up bittersweet. Due to the fierce battle, his suit has run out of power as Tony ends up crashing into the forest. With the ring still in his possession, he abandons his suit and begins the long trek back home.
Sometime later, Tony makes it back to New York City. As he looks from the adjacent subway entrance however, he sees that Stark Tower is under complete lockdown with no one allowed to enter. Just then, he’s approached by a familiar face as he discovers that Li Mei has left her home country. Tony proceeds to tell her of his quest to prevent the Mandarin’s return, in that he acquired one of the five bands and that only the Earth Elemental remains. She states that it will relentlessly pursue him and that this isn’t his burden to bear. However, Tony says that he’s not putting her life in further jeopardy than it already is. When he asks if destroying the Mandarin’s Temple will finally end their dilemma, Li Mei states that she’s unsure. With Pepper and Rhodey under S.H.I.E.L.D. custody, Tony tries calling his father for help in getting back to his private room so that he can acquire a new Iron Man armor. However, Howard subtly tells him that it’s not safe since even his own office is swarmed with agents. With Tony completely cut off from his suits, he wonders what other option remains. Just then, he remembers something from earlier as he and Li Mei run off.
That night, our heroes arrive back at the airport. However, a pair of agents are guarding Rhodey’s plane. Fortunately, Li Mei manages to take care of both men as they make their way inside the aircraft and takeoff for China. It turns out that Tony remembered the Grey Armor that he built for his initial escape.
Meanwhile, the Earth Elemental has arrived back at the Mandarin’s Temple as he proceeds to raise his master’s army from the dead.
Shortly afterwards, Iron Man arrives by dive-bombing onto the otherworldly being. However, Earth manages to recover and puts the Armored Avenger into a hold while trying to crush his head. Fortunately, Iron Man manages to blast off and take the Elemental with him. After breaking free of its grasp, Tony freefalls towards the ground before rocketing back upwards. He uses his repulsor rays to weaken Earth just enough so that the collision hits with enough force to bring the last Elemental to a permanent end.
After landing back on the ground, Iron Man picks up the four rings and hands them over to Li Mei. He then states that he’s going to destroy the temple and assumes that the final ring is inside it as well. However, it turns out that Li Mei’s bracelet was the fifth band all along. She then states that she did everything in her power to keep Tony away and even admits to being the one who forged the documents that would have placed him behind bars. She then reveals that her responsibility isn’t to prevent the Mandarin from rising again, but to ensure it. It turns out that Li Mei is the last decedent and that she has to be the one who allows the Mandarin to walk the Earth once more, even tearfully stating that it’s the only reason for her existence.
Tony tries to tell her that she still has a choice and doesn’t have to do this, but Li Mei refuses to listen as she awakens the Mandarin’s Army before heading towards the temple. With all hope for a peaceful end squandered, Iron Man proceeds to engage the innumerable amount of ancient stone warriors.
Meanwhile, Li Mei proceeds to enter the building as she makes her way past the flaming hallway. With the Bands of the Underworld in her possession, she starts heading down towards the temple’s lower areas.
Eventually, she reaches the main tomb where the floor is completely submerged in water. Using her bands, she manages to bring the Mandarin’s coffin up from the soaked ground and begins to open it.
After a long and furious battle, Iron Man finally manages to bring down the Mandarin’s entire army. Just as he’s about to reach the entrance, he suddenly finds himself in yet another fight for his life. It turns out that the Mandarin’s dragon has returned and proceeds to smack Tony up against a statue. Fortunately, the impact shattered its grip on an actual sword as Iron Man wields it in time to deliver a strike onto the mighty beast. However, the dragon retaliates by slamming him into a construction truck that was left over from the expedition.
Fortunately, the vehicle contained canisters of liquified fiber-steel. As such, Iron Man throws one of the tubes at the dragon who proceeds to swallow it. He then grabs a sonic cannon and fires it at the creature. The fiber-steel proceeds to expand from within as the dragon is wrought with pain from the technological metal and is ultimately done in.
Meanwhile, the Mandarin (voiced by Fred Tatasciore) rises from his grave and starts to spiritually bond with Li Mei. The process is so painful that it rips her robes to shreds.
By the time Iron Man makes his way down to the tomb, it’s too late. The Mandarin has taken control of Li Mei and starts using her body to attack Tony. No matter how hard he tries to reach her, the Mandarin’s grasp is too strong as he magically throws Iron Man around like a rag doll.
With the exhaustion from battle setting in and his armor badly damaged, Tony once again calls out for Li Mei to regain control over herself. Just as the Mandarin orders for her to kill Iron Man, she finally snaps out of his fierce command. Despite getting thrown across the room out of disobedience, a weary Li Mei manages to start discarding her bands. While doing so, the Mandarin begins to feel a bright light of pain with his power lessening over her. After she discards the last ring from her hand, he ends up exploding in a flash of bright light.
Afterwards, Iron Man makes his way over to Li Mei. They thank each other for saving one another and embrace with a kiss before she succumbs to her injuries and dies. And so, Tony suffers from the biggest of bittersweet victories due to losing his newest friend despite the Mandarin’s reign of terror being put to a permanent end.
At least a week later in Stark Tower, another board meeting is in place as Tony arrives late due to an interview with S.H.I.E.L.D. During the meeting, we learn that he’s been cleared of all criminal charges. Not only that, he also bought up enough of the company’s stock to assume complete control over his industry. Tony then announces his two orders of business. First, his friend Rhodey has been promoted to Chief Engineer of Advanced Technologies. Second, he’s giving complete company control over to his father. With a new groundwork set for the father-son organization, the film ends with Howard firing Boyer and the entire board of directors.
Now, we move on to my character analysis. First in line, we have Iron Man. In the beginning, he was somewhat irresponsible as he lived like a playboy and didn’t take his company position seriously enough. Only after Rhodey’s kidnapping and the failed rescue operation that resulted in him with a necessary life-support system for his heart did it open his eyes towards becoming a larger-than-life figure. His character arc follows him as he tries to clean up a mistake that he’s made, in that his excavation has unleashed a historic evil upon the world and he must stop it before it ends up ruling the planet. Starting with his imprisonment by the Jade Dragons and continuing afterwards due to Agent Drake and his men pursuing him because of a broken law, Tony is forced to become resourceful and work around his current barriers in order the stop the crisis at hand. This also helps him fix his relationship with his father, who’s alive for this film, since it starts out as somewhat distrustful as Tony believes that Howard is incapable of running the company. He’s even more hateful towards his father when weapons were sent out to China to order to protect the excavation, since Howard unintentionally put his son into harm’s way. Despite that, a gleam of trust is shown when Tony tries calling him for help in getting past Agent Drake and his men and Howard is able to use his tone in a way to keep him away from their grasp. It subtly shows that he still cares about his son and it ultimately comes to a head at the end when Tony shows his new-found trust and responsibility towards his dad. Not only that, but his pal Rhodey also runs through his character arc as well. Initially, James was the one out of the two who was dedicated to his job and he ended up captured at the cost of Tony’s irresponsibility. From there, they help each other escape and work towards stopping the Mandarin’s ultimate goal. Even Rhodey is put under distrust since Tony didn’t initially show him his private room full of Iron Man suits before he could get properly introduced. Ultimately, Rhodey is proven by his friend’s actions that he’s becoming a changed man. So much so that he (like Pepper) give themselves up to authority so that Tony can continue his good-natured change by stopping the Mandarin’s nefarious plans. We’ll get into detail about some changes made from the source material in a further section. To wrap this one up, Marc Worden does a fairly decent job here in his solo outing. It’s nothing that stands out too much, but it’s confident, witty and emotional enough to satisfy.
Now, we reach Li Mei. Surprisingly, she and Tony were the only characters that I found were on-screen enough to receive an analysis. Everybody else fits their roles in an adequate manner. Either way, let’s break her down. Like Tony, she also had a responsibility-themed character arc. From the beginning, Li Mei feels like she’s unable to escape the destiny that her family line has in store for her. During Tony’s imprisonment, she grows to like him and never wants him to be harmed. Unlike Stark who learns how to appreciate his dad, Li Mei’s father showers her with jealousy since his old age prevents him from seeing the Mandarin’s eventual resurrection while Wong Chu scolds her showing sympathy towards their prisoners. In that vein, she rebels by shooting the Jade Dragons’ leader. Even when she assumes command of her group, she finds the task of stopping the Mandarin to be too much since they were easily defeated by his pet dragon. However, her end game doesn’t gel with what the Jade Dragons wanted to do. After reuniting with Iron Man who defeats the final Elemental, her familial duties kick in as she proceeds to bring the Mandarin back to life. In the end, it takes Tony to remind her of who she really is. From there, she finally changes for the better by going against her family’s history. However, the strain from his wrath ultimately does her in even though she defeats the Mandarin by removing all five “Bands of the Underworld”. For the most part, Li Mei feels like she’s unable to escape her family’s legacy. It’s possible that the mural temporarily inspires her to try and avert said destiny. However, seeing the dragon wipe out her team probably served as a reminder to what she’s forever bound to. With the attempt to get Tony arrested on a weapons charge, Li Mei only wanted to get him away since she’s somewhat cares for him. Gwendoline Yeo does a modest job with the role, given that she’s from Singapore and that it’s mostly Chinese ethnically. She’s able to make her character sound authentic and gives her some decent range, but the character is somewhat inconsistent in her motives. Thankfully, Li Mei doesn’t flip-flop throughout just to fit the film. Overall, while a slighty-tighter script would have made this character better, Yeo (who would go on to help out in later DC films “Green Lantern: Emerald Knights” and “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns”) does what she can here.
With nobody else outside of Tony and Li Mei having much to do in order to warrant a character arc, it’s time to find some differences between what’s given here and what’s come to pass in the main Marvel continuity known as Earth-616. As seen in the film, Wong Chu is chinese and is the initial leader of the Jade Dragons. He tries to stop Stark Industries’ attempts to resurrect the Mandarin, no matter how viciously. After capturing Rhodey and Tony, he orders for them to build a device that would bring the Mandarin’s Temple back down into the Earth. Just when he discovers that he’s bring tricked, Li Mei shoots him to death. Meanwhile, the original Wong Chu in Tales of Suspense #63 (which also served as Iron Man’s debut) is the ruthless leader of a Vietnamese guerrilla force. Tony, who was demonstrating the power of transistors to a U.S. General, is captured after falling over a trip-wire booby trap that exploded near him and lodged some shrapnel close to his heart. From there, Wong Chu orders him and Prof. Yinsen to build them a powerful weapon in exchange for a surgeon to help save his life. After Yinsen helps him build the original Mark I suit and sacrifices his life to give him more time, Tony fights his way out and slay Wong Chu via an explosion from an ammunition dump. Both serve their purpose towards Tony building the armor that would forever change his life. Next, we have his father, Howard Stark. In the film, he’s the sole surviving parent and is a top tier executive in Stark Tower. His main contribution was mainly sending weapons out to the Chinese excavation site for security purposes and for Tony’s lack of company attention due to his playboy-ish lifestyle. Following the whole situation, the two of them amend their rift and become the sole owners of their company. Meanwhile, the comics version had him as a man who founded Stark Industries, working on government projects during both World Wars, work with S.H.I.E.L.D. and marry Maria. They initially had a son named Arno (long story) and eventually adopted Tony. Despite molding his son into the businessman that he would become, the father-son relationship was strained. Eventually, he and Maria were killed in a car crash. As far as his use in the film, Howard doesn’t effect much of the plot outside of the weapons supply that gets Tony into governmental trouble. It just feels like there wasn’t too much of a point for keeping him alive. Not too much to say about Pepper and Rhodey here. They mainly help Tony out with certain situations and the latter doesn’t get a chance to use the War Machine armor despite Tony having armors before their capture (another odd change from the comics).
The animation is mainly two-dimensional and it looks mainly competent. There wasn’t any notable gaffs on display that I could spot. For the Iron Man suits (when they’re in motion) and the Elementals, computer-generated imagery was used. According to the making-of featurette, the CGI was used for those models since those wouldn’t have to express emotions on the surface. It helps in their fights since their mainly 3-D figures duking it out in front of drawn background, but Iron Man’s other fights come against the Jade Dragons, the Mandarin’s Army, the Mandarin’s dragon and the Mandarin himself (or at least, his spirit since he’s using Li Mei’s body) and they’re hand-drawn just like the rest of the human characters. There’s sort of a clash of different animation styles, but it never feels jarring. As far as the action scenes go, they start off simple as basic. Once Tony dawns an Iron Man suit to take on the Elementals, then they receive a modest upgrade. There’s some ingenuity when it comes to him taking each otherworldly being out one-by-one, but the fight with the Mandarin’s Army is basically a war of attrition. The fight with the dragon was neat, but the final battle with the Mandarin was underwhelming since it was Li Mei to defeats him thanks to Iron Man ultimately convincing her that she has a choice.
Overall, this film is OK. Tony Stark & friends are enjoyable, the story is comprehensible & easy to follow and there’s enough tension to drive the plot. However, some of the CGI doesn’t flow well, the action scenes range from thrilling to above-average and the Mandarin only feels like a step above Iron Man 3 in at least he’s actually an obstacle for the Armored Avenger. It’s best to see this as it’s own stand-alone film, but it is worth watching to see this adventure play out. Otherwise, it’s good but nothing to write home about.
Next Time: Nine years before the MCU brought him to the big-screen, our favorite mystic comes into being to help a group of fellow enchanters and enchantresses combat an ancient evil. Stephen Strange gets his change to shine in “Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme”.
Iron Man (created by Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, Don Heck and Jack Kirby) is owned by Marvel Comics.