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Iron Man: Extremis / Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D.(2009)
The Marvel Knights animated series remains true to the heritage of panel-by-panel graphic storytelling, boasting groundbreaking graphics, sensational soundscapes and, of coarse, the explosiveness of the Mighty Marvel Universe. Feeling like the most hated person on Earth after the events of Secret Invasion, Jessica Drew aka Spider-Woman is approached by a mysterious stranger to join S.W.O.R.D. (Sentient World Observation and Response Department), a counter-terrorism and intelligence agency for extraterrestrial threats.
For more about Iron Man: Extremis / Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D. and the Iron Man: Extremis / Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D. Blu-ray release, see Iron Man: Extremis / Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D. Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on July 24, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Iron Man: Extremis / Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D. Blu-ray Review
From page to screen. Literally.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, July 24, 2011
More than a comic book, less than a cartoon. The so-called "motion comic" translates the trusty printed-page with its static and colorful images and text bubbles into a product fit for display on television, utilizing slight movement and voiceover work to bring the comic book experience to semi-life. It's a concept that hasn't really caught on and feels more like a novelty than the future of entertainment, particularly if Marvel Knights is a prime example of what this niche is all about. Both Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D. and Iron Man: Extremis deliver the motion comic experience to varying degrees of success; the former feels a little more as-described, a decidedly static example while the latter enjoys a bit more of a kinetic and traditionally animated flair, playing more like a hybrid than a simple comic plopped on the screen utilizing a "Ken Burns Effect"-style camera pan that serves as the only real movement in the movie. Both motion comics are broken down into short minutes-long segments, each with their own introductions and credits. As a result, both are choppy and difficult to really become wholly engaged with. Still, these are nothing if not unique entertainment experiences, albeit ones that seem geared to a specific audience that's bound to get far more out of them than more casual viewers who either aren't up to speed on their Marvel characters or who aren't ready to step out of their entertainment comfort zones and try something new.
Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D.
I'm still the most screwed-up person in the history of the universe.
Jessica Drew, a.k.a. "Spider-Woman," is dissatisfied with her life, living in a state of depression and slowly coming to terms with her own sense of failure and instability. Her life once again finds a purpose when she's summoned by the mysterious Abigail Brand to become a member of a secret organization known as S.W.O.R.D. -- or Sentient World Observation and Response Department -- that employs superheroes in the name of intelligence gathering and counterterrorism activities against extraterrestrial life forms and invaders. Jessica accepts the challenge and heads to the Southeast Asian city of Madripoor where she finds herself in search of alien beings known as "Scrolls." Run-ins with an impostor Spider-Man, the devious Madame Hydra, and the unstable Thunderbolts complicate her task, but Jessica soon learns that all she becomes involved with will lead her back to completing her mission.
Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D. delivers a fair superhero experience, nothing more, nothing less. The story is fine though obviously catered to hardcore Marvel audiences. It's interesting enough to hold one's attention over the course of a handful of minutes-long segments, but it definitely feels a little sterile, assembled with not much thought for broader appeal or airtight structure. To its credit, the film paints a nicely atmospheric picture of a desperate and worn-down superhero thrust into a new line of work and the dangers associated with it. Cold and shadowy and darkly depressing colors nicely reinforce the plot and the character's mindset. The pacing is fair but the action is a bit stiff; the comic book experience doesn't really translate all that well to the screen in this case, seeming to lessen the danger and excitement that in this case is probably best left on the flat, motionless page. Worse, character development and reinforcement both are virtually zero, meaning casual fans and newcomers might feel put off by the assumed knowledge the film seems to count on. Complicating matters is generic, uninspired, and unenthusiastic voice work that seems completely detached from the on-screen action and never seems to find the right cadence to support the bleak character and noir-inspired story.
Iron Man: Extremis
I never claimed to be perfect.
In a dank secluded facility deep in the heart of Texas, an experimental drug dubbed "Extremis" is injected into a test subject. The results are immediate. His physical form begins to alter, and it's not long before he's become Mallen, a one-man, or perhaps better said one-entity, wrecking crew, now capable of the destructive force his rhetoric demands. Meanwhile, billionaire playboy Tony Stark is drawn into the investigation centering around the stolen drug. With the doctor who released it dead by his own hand, Stark turns to former colleague and old flame Maya Hanson, who's also been closely involved in the development of Extremis, for help. Stark learns that the drug involves the use of nanotechnology meant to boost the military's super-soldier program. When Stark -- as Iron Man -- battles and loses to Mallen, he's left with no choice but to consider injecting himself with the Extremis super-drug if he's to recover from his wounds, get back in the fight, and stand a chance at defeating one of the most destructive adversaries he's ever faced.
Flawed though it might be, Iron Man: Extremis is an entertaining motion comic book that thrives more on character development and inner exploration than it does raw action. Certainly, when the film dives into its action scenes -- of which there are two -- it proves to be an invigorating experience, but the film succeeds primarily thanks to its surrounding structural elements. Extremis manages to show two sides of Tony Stark: the Stark that was wounded and created his Iron Man suit and the Tony Stark who is today a superhero and CEO who looks at his suit not as a weapon but as an object that saves lives -- his included -- and that must be used for good. That transitions into the implications of the greater story at hand. Conceptually, the story proves quite good, demonstrating the ills of extremism (it's no coincidence that the drug shares that title) but at the same time implying that sometimes order and balance require encroaching further on out to the edge than one might otherwise venture. The story is one of balance, whether political, psychological, or the delicate harmony between technology and nature that keeps Tony Stark alive. It's oftentimes fascinating stuff, but the visual structure really doesn't do much for the movie. While the animation proves superior to Agent of S.W.O.R.D., it's still choppy and lacks flow, even if it does manage to look a little more like a hybrid motion comic/fully animated picture than its more static companion. The voice acting is strong and the sound engineering is a positive, but the overall presentation just doesn't do much to structurally support what is a well above-average plot line.
Iron Man: Extremis / Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D. Blu-ray, Video Quality
Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D.
This 1080p, 1.78:1-framed transfer is steady but not perfect, delivering a fair image that's limited by the nature of the material and the noir-inspired stylings the film employs. Colors are depressed and made mostly of darker surrounding shades and a few splashes of brighter hues thrown in for good measure. Colors transition well in places, but severe banding is evident in others. Detailing is quite good; the 1080p transfer picks up all of the nuances within the individual frames, and the length with which they remain on-screen allows viewers to really soak in all the intricate little touches in each one. Unfortunately, a few lines look terribly jagged, but the image is otherwise steady and accurate.
Iron Man: Extremis
Again presented in a 1080p, 1.78:1 format, Extremis fares a bit better than Agent of S.W.O.R.D.. Banding is present but seems reduced in terms of the raw amount that plagues the entirety of the film, even considering Extremis runs a good bit longer than its counterpart. Detail, too, is markedly improved, but such seems more a direct result of the different style of animation than anything else. Colors are even and steady; this film enjoys more of a balanced and naturally colorful look than does Agent of S.W.O.R.D., again a difference related to the varying natures of the films rather than the transfer-to-Blu-ray process. Jagged lines are kept to a minimum. All in all, Extremis delivers a nice looking, albeit flat, 1080p image that's somewhat technically improved but all other things being equal "prettier" if only because of it's naturally brighter veneer.
Iron Man: Extremis / Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D. Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D.
Unfortunately, this half of the double feature comes only with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 soundtrack, and the results are less than spectacular. The track proves to be very unbalanced. Dialogue occasionally lands all over the soundstage and emanates from anywhere and everywhere across the front. It's jarring and unsettling as words shift from place to place. Such is the case not only in voiceover narration, where a "boomier" or some similar sort of detached effect might be expected and contextually work, but the issue creeps into dialogue between characters, too. As to its other attributes, the track does offer a fair bit of power, as unkempt as it sometimes may be. Music delivery is fair, failing to achieve exact clarity and crispness but delivering a serviceable sort of listen nonetheless. Gunfire is sharp and generally potent and zippy, perhaps the single best element in the track. Unfortunately, the track is almost destroyed by the sometimes massively uneven dialogue, but it's just good enough, and the surrounding elements suitably adequate, to save the track from being a complete letdown.
Iron Man: Extremis
Unlike its counterpart, Extremis comes with a fully-powered DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack, and the improvements are immediate and more readily identifiable. Dialogue is naturally balanced and remains grounded in the center channel. Music and effects spacing is excellent, and while raw clarity leaves a bit to be desired, the bigger, meatier feel definitely helps out the track, whether during big action sequences or general dialogue scenes that take on a more natural texture. The track even features some subtle but mood-critical ambience to more naturally pull in its listeners. Action scenes are dynamic, enjoying plenty of volume and a tight low end but also maintaining the clarity necessary to create the perfect action atmosphere. All in all, this is a solid track that's vastly superior to Agent of S.W.O.R.D. and a fine companion for Extremis.
Iron Man: Extremis / Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D. Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Marvel Knights Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D. / Iron Man: Extremis arrives on Blu-ray with a fair assortment of extra content, headlined by a few pieces that take viewers behind-the-scenes of the making of their favorite motion comics.
Iron Man: Extremis / Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D. Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Fans looking for a high definition example of motion comics have come to the right place. Shout! Factory's Blu-ray release of Marvel Knights Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D. / Iron Man: Extremis delivers relatively fun but somewhat flawed pictures with fair video, shaky-to-good audio, and a decent helping of extra content. The movies aren't for everybody -- hardcore Marvel fans will enjoy them the most -- but ignoring the relative strengths and weaknesses of the films and the differing qualities of the high definition presentations, they do serve as fine introductions to this niche medium. On that, this release is recommended as a rental to most and a purchase at the right price for dedicated Marvel fans.
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