in Retrospecticus

Retrospecticus: Jon Favreau

OK. I’m not going to be the only one not to do a Retrospecticus. So we’re going to take a short look at the career of director Jon Favreau. Why? Iron Man 2 comes out on Friday. Good enough. Favreau’s not exactly a prolific director, but I certainly enjoy his work. Are you going to complain about this? No. You’re not.

Swingers (1996)

While he didn’t direct Swingers, Favreau did write and star in the movie, and for all intents and purposes, his career starts here. This is a manly movie about single men of the 1990s trying to make and name for themselves and survive on the Hollywood dating scene. The movie made Vince Vaughn a star as Trent, a smooth operator who knows all the moves and rules necessary to seduce a dame. But our hero is Favreau as the timid, lonely Mike. Mike is recovering from a tough break up and has a hard time making new connections, much to his friends’ chagrin. This is definitely a guy movie, and watching these characters talk about dating strategies, play video games, and ridicule each other is a lot of fun. With a ton of pop culture references and cinematic homages, this isn’t necessarily genius-level material, but it is very entertaining. Kind of a theme for Favreau’s career.

Made (2001)

In my experience, Made doesn’t have much of a rep, good or bad. Which is a shame, since it’s actually a really solid comedy. You could call it Swingers as gangsters, since this is another movie that depends entirely on the interplay between Favreau and Vaughn. Favreau is once again the straight man, a L.A. mobster tough guy named Bobby who has to redeem himself after he roughs up the wrong guy. His boss sends him to New York on a job, and he brings his lifelong friend Ricky (Vaughn) with him. They get into some wacky situations, but the movie is all about Bobby and Ricky arguing with each other. Ricky is the main comedic attraction, as when he’s not fighting with Bobby, he’s making an ass of himself with everyone else. The movie also features a number of recognizable faces, including Sam Rockwell and Sean Combs. Good stuff.

Elf (2003)

Already a Christmas classic, it’s hard to believe Elf is almost seven years old. It’s also surprising that this is only Favreau’s second stint behind the camera, as he is as capable as ever. That said, this movie totally belongs to Will Ferrell. His portrayal of Buddy, a human that was raised by Santa’s elves, is so endearing that I’ve yet to meet a person who could resist his charms. Whether he’s sitting on Bob Newhart’s lap or eating a disgusting breakfast, you just gotta like the guy. I have a hard time criticizing the film because I’m perfectly content with it as it is. Yes, the ending is pretty weak. And yes, you shouldn’t ever compromise or “take of your critic hat,” but let’s face it, you’re going to be stuck watching something on Christmas. I’m more than happy to welcome it into the pantheon of consistently enjoyable holiday movies.

Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005)

After the success of Elf, studio heads must have declared Favreau a family-friendly film savant, so they put him in charge of the Jumanji successor Zathura. Just like the 1990s hit, this film puts some bickering children in very real danger when the events described in an old board game start happening in real life. The movie starts out with a references to Milton Bradley (the ballplayer), which I appreciated. Tim Robbins is dad and Kristen Stewart is big sister, but the stars are two little boys played by Jonah Bobo and Josh Hutcherson. Also Dax Shepard is an astronaut. This certainly is not a masterpiece, but for a kid’s movie, it’s fine. I never really liked either of the child actor stars. Frankly the movie is too long as well, it didn’t really hold my attention for a meaty chunk in the middle. But it’s not that bad. I just wouldn’t be in a hurry to see it. I only saw it so I could do this post.

Iron Man (2008)

Much like Elf, Iron Man is a movie propelled by its star. This time, it’s Robert Downey, Jr. as the eponymous hero, but more importantly his alter ego Tony Stark. It’s rare for a modern comic book movie to rely so much on comedy, and even rarer for it to work so well. But beyond the amusing bits, Iron Man also manages to pack in some pretty sweet CG sequences. Remember when he goes back to Afghanistan and just wipes those dudes out. That was pretty neat. Also like Elf, the ending was a little disappointing. Except for the very end of the movie, when Stark proves why he’s a different kind of super hero. This was the beginning of the Marvel push for an Avengers movie, and frankly, as long as RDJ keeps playing Iron Man, I’ll be happy.

This brings us to today. Just a couple days away from Iron Man 2, and only a couple years from the amazingly-titled Cowboys and Aliens.