Director – Hiroshi Hamasaki, Screenplay – Kengo Kaji, Story – Brando Auman, Producers – Megan Thomas Bradner, Scott Dolph, Taro Morishima & Harrison Wilcox, Music – Tetsuya Takahashi, Animation – Madhouse Inc., Chief Animation Director – Masanori Shino. Production Company – SH DTV Partners/Sony Pictures Entertainment (Japan) Inc./Madhouse Inc.
Matthew Mercer (Tony Stark/Iron Man), Eric Bauza (Ezekiel Stane/Technovore), Norman Reedus (Frank Castle/The Punisher), Kate Higgins (Pepper Potts), James Mathis III (James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes/War Machine), John Bentley (Nick Fury), Clare Grant (Natasha Romanova/Black Widow), Troy Baker (Clint ‘Hawkeye’ Barton/J.A.R.V.I.S.), Tara Platt (Sasha Hammer), J.B. Blanc (Obadiah Stane)
Tony Stark is about to launch the Howard Satellite, an advancement in surveillance technology that will allow the US to spy on its enemies, when the launch is attacked by mercenaries in power suits. Tony goes up against the leader of the group who wears a highly advanced nanotech suit that is melded with its wearer’s biology, only to discover that the leader is a mere teenager. Taken in by S.H.I.E.L.D. in the aftermath and with Rhodey in critical condition, Tony defies Nick Fury’s orders and breaks out of the flying fortress. Hunted by S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, he goes rogue in an effort to track down the wearer of the suit. Joining forces with Frank ‘The Punisher’ Castle, Tony discovers that the wearer is Ezekiel Stane, the son of his former business partner/enemy Obadiah Stane. Ezekiel has created the Technovore, a highly advanced nanotech system with which he intends to become the next evolutionary step and harness the Howard Satellite to destroy all life on Earth.
Film adaptations of Marvel Comics properties have become massive on cinema screens during the 00s with the likes of Blade (1998), X-Men (2000), Spider-Man (2002), Daredevil (2003), Hulk (2003), The Punisher (2004), Fantastic Four (2005), Ghost Rider (2007), Iron Man (2008), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), Thor (2011), The Avengers (2012), Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Ant-Man (2015), Deadpool (2016), Doctor Strange (2016), Black Panther (2018), Venom (2018), Captain Marvel (2019), Black Widow (2020) and various sequels to most of these. By contrast, DC Comics have had little success on big screens outside of their various Batman and Superman films but have done roaringly when it comes to animation, notedly with a series of dvd film releases mostly made under the aegis of producer Bruce W. Timm. Marvel have attempted to venture into animation but their fitful releases there – the likes of Ultimate Avengers (2006), Ultimate Avengers II (2006), Doctor Strange (2007), The Invincible Iron Man (2007), Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow (2008), Hulk Vs (2009), Planet Hulk (2010) and Thor: Tales of Asgard (2011) – have met with little success.
Rise of Technovore was released the same time as the live-action Iron Man Three (2013). It takes the route that a number of other film franchises and computer game adaptations have of recent – that of going anime. This is a fad that began with The Animatrix (2003) and has been taken up by other works such as Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (2005), Highlander: The Search for Vengeance (2007), Batman: Gotham Knight (2008), Resident Evil: Degeneration (2008), Halo Legends (2010), Mass Effect: Paragon Lost (2012), Resident Evil: Damnation (2012), Starship Troopers: Invasion (2012), Resident Evil: Vendetta (2017), Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars (2017), Batman Ninja (2018) and Altered Carbon: Resleeved (2020). This film’s director Hiroshi Hamasaki had previously co-directed Highlander: The Search for Vengeance.
Rise of Technovore is off to a good start. The opening scenes with Iron Man and War Machine in a race through the skies before the attack by the power-suited soldiers has a great excitement to it. (Although when you watch it post-Edward Snowden, the opening scenes with Tony Stark introducing a hi-tech surveillance satellite and promising to make the US safer against her enemies does take on a certain sinister chill that was probably not intended when the film was made).
The action scenes throughout – the aforementioned opening scenes, the battle with the mandroids, the various fights with Technovore and the epic-sized climactic battle – hold more action than all of the other Marvel animated films combined. Any of these even knock Iron Man Three for dead and you know would have made for the most awesome Iron Man film if conducted in live-action.
Rise of Technovore also follows on closely in continuity from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, unlike the other Marvel animated films. The film, for instance, goes with the cinematic interpretations of Jarvis as an A.I., a goateed Tony Stark and an African-American Nick Fury rather than their very different comic-book counterparts. Even the design of the S.H.I.E.L.D. flying carrier has been borrowed straight out of The Avengers. There are also guest appearances from a number of other Marvel characters, including Black Widow, Hawkeye, Nick Fury and especially The Punisher (voiced by Norman Reedus), whom Tony teams up with while on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D.
With all it has going for it – epic-sized anime action, much fanservice respect to the Marvel Universe, a darker tone that some of the other animated films – Iron Man: Rise of Technovore should have been a standout. For some reason though, it just never comes together on the screen. Technovore is an old nemesis out of the comic-books, where it is something more akin to the title creature in Virus (1999). Here it has been given an anime spin and rather than a rogue machine intelligence gets a very different origin story as the son of Obadiah Stane who has developed and melded with some highly advanced nanotechnology.
The main problem is the story. The Tony Stark gone rogue plot seems too unmotivated for the time given over to it – wouldn’t S.H.I.E.L.D. want to track down the terrorist cell just as much as Tony? Far too much of the scenes with Ezekiel sitting around in a white void drift and all the talk of human-machine evolution wanders off into the transcendental abstracts and reaching for the mystical that anime constantly strains for. The climactic scenes where the machine emerges and it and Iron Man engage in a massive battle as it evolves into another lifeform and fills the city with huge tentacles feels as though the production was at a loss of how to wrap the show up and so just grafted on a bunch of ideas from the last twenty minutes of Akira (1988).