Jon Favreau

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017, Jon Watts)

If Spider-Man: Homecoming isn’t the best film with six credited screenwriters, it’s got to be near the top. Additionally, the film’s got director (and one the Sinister Six–wokka wokka–screenwriters) Watts, who kind of manually binds the film together scene by scene. There’s so much different stuff going on–darker than expected villain Michael Keaton’s subplot, which is a “what happens when a psychopath loses his day job” origin, Spider-Man Begins, and a high school movie. The first two interconnect, the second two interconnect, but it’s a lot going on at once. Not to mention Robert Downey Jr. being shoehorned in for franchise purposes.

Watts, through his direction of the actors and the pacing of the scenes, keeps it enthusiastic but never too enthusiastic. The studio credits having the old “Spider-Man” cartoon theme is actually as far as it gets towards too self-aware. Keeping it grounded makes the “Spider-Man excitedly climbing buildings” sequences entertaining. It’s Spider-Man’s enthusiasm, not the film’s. It’s Tom Holland’s enthusiasm.

And Spider-Man: Homecoming is all about Tom Holland. Keaton gets to do his villain arc on his own for most of the movie and it’s flashy, but it’s a small part. Holland’s in every other scene (except when he’s Spider-Manning to save people or to stop criminals). He’s got Avengers training with Downey and Jon Favreau (who looks miserable), he’s got high school with Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier, and Zendaya, he’s got friendly neighborhood crimefighting, he’s got home with Marisa Tomei. The script balances all of it pragmatically and impersonally.

Homecoming always errs on the side of narrative payoff. Even though everyone implies the potential of letting loose, only Batalon gets anything near the chance and it’s incredibly muted. The film’s focused on Holland’s story and goals, so much the things going on alongside him–Tomei, Harrier–are left out. Except when the script picks back up with them, there’s no gap. Quick, effective expositions, good acting, and Watts’s meticulous narrative distance to Tom Holland, it all comes together. And Homecoming, which has Chris Evans cameos, laser guns, suburban superhero action, Downey, stunt cameo casting, a terribly bland but competent Michael Giacchino score, and everything else–oh, the Ferris Bueller’s Day Off homage–it has so much.

Yet Watts keeps it together. Because he keeps it on Holland and it never seems like a pressure. Holland’s character development arc is a subtle one too. He usually just has to bake it into other scenes, with the script never getting too far into it. Homecoming doesn’t imply things often and it’s very careful when it does; it knows it’s a franchise picture with a familiar IP and it only wants to do what it wants to do.

But since it is a franchise picture, there’s also a lack of urgency. Everything feels very safe. Keaton feels restrained. Not sure letting him loose on a villain kick would result in a better performance, but he’s still holding back. The bad guys in Homecoming are never bad enough to hurt regular people, which sometimes too contributes to the “safe” feeling.

Though it allows a pointless but amusing Donald Glover cameo.

Excellent special effects. Salvatore Totino’s photography is simultaneously warm and crisp, letting the film toggle between thrills and light superhero angst, but it also provides a great backdrop for the CGI. You have to stop and reminds yourself the leaping figure isn’t Holland.

Homecoming finally figures out how to let the actor “playing” Spider-Man give a full performance as Spider-Man. Because Watts and Holland.

All the acting is good. Downey’s doing a schtick at this point, but likably. It’s a PG Downey in a PG–13 movie. Batalon and Harrier are great. Bookem Woodbine’s good as one of Keaton’s goons. Tomei’s good. Zendaya is likable. She’s got nothing to do but she’s likable. Besides appearing miserable to have agreed to appear, Favreau’s fine. Enough. He underplays an underwritten part.

Keaton’s fine. Kind of good. Never bad, but never anything too special. The script gives him a “little guy trying to survive” thing to do and Keaton can do it. It’s just not a great part. It’s effective and it’s only supposed to be effective.

And Holland’s amazing.

Given its production history (involving Marvel, i.e. Disney, producing a film at Columbia, i.e. Sony, to work it into the Marvel movie continuity), not to mention six credited screenwriters, and being such a familiar film property at this point, Spider-Man: Homecoming starts out with a lot it seems to need to do and a lot it shouldn’t do.

The film does everything it should and nothing it shouldn’t and never in a rush. Nothing’s perfunctory. Homecoming sets up Keaton, then it moves on to Holland, and it just does the movie.

Excellent result from Watts, Holland, and everyone else’s efforts. Except Giacchino. One of Homecoming’s early hurdles is succeeding in spite of Giacchino’s boring score.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jon Watts; screenplay by Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, and Erik Sommers, based on a story by Goldstein and Daley and the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; director of photography, Salvatore Totino; edited by Debbie Berman and Dan Lebental; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, Oliver Scholl; produced by Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Tom Holland (Peter Parker), Michael Keaton (Adrian Toomes), Marisa Tomei (Aunt May), Jacob Batalon (Ned), Laura Harrier (Liz), Zendaya (Michelle), Tony Revolori (Flash), Jon Favreau (Happy Hogan), Martin Starr (Mr. Harrington), Bokeem Woodbine (Herman Schultz), Logan Marshall-Green (Jackson Brice), and Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark).


Daredevil (2003, Mark Steven Johnson)

I like Ben Affleck. Even his early phase–the self-aware, “Bruce Willis doing a Harrison Ford” impression thing actually worked out on occasion. It helped he kept the persona between pictures. Of course, Daredevil comes after Affleck decided to do his own thing. He gets an incomplete in Daredevil. You couldn’t hate watch it for his lousy essaying of the role of blind, gymnastic ninja lawyer but you also can’t say he came anywhere near making it work. It’s not his fault, it’s a terrible script, terrible direction, terrible everything, but he still didn’t make it work.

So while I can hope Affleck doesn’t embarrass himself, Daredevil is another story. Watching the film, for long, boring portions, there’s nothing to do but hope for it to fail a little bit more. Just to make things interesting. Director Johnson tries to do Batman meets Spider-Man meets The Matrix meets “extreme sports.” It’s awful. Though it does look a lot like a low budget, serious attempt at Joel Schumacher Batman movie. Even the crappy Graeme Revell music fits that vibe. It’s got enough budget to attempt effects sequences, but no idea what to do with them. It gets outrageous enough, it seems like Daredevil is actually going to break into absurdity. Little CGI Ben Affleck chasing little CGI Colin Farrell. Like they’ll stop and ask the audience how they can be believing anything so silly.

Farrell gives the most forgivable performance. Not even Joe Pantoliano (I miss Joe Pantoliano’s “stunt casting” phase) does well. No one does well. Jennifer Garner manages to adequate but unlikable. She’s even sympathetic during the cheesy romance montages, which Johnson certainly shows more aptitude for directing than anything else in the film.

However, the third act has a surprisingly decent pace. Daredevil overstays its welcome, but seems to realize it and make reasonable amends. Until the idiotic epilogue sequence, which has way too much CGI and way too little imagination. Oh, look, I unintentionally ended on a metaphor for the whole movie.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Mark Steven Johnson; screenplay by Johnson, based on characters created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett; director of photography, Ericson Core; edited by Dennis Virkler and Armen Minasian; music by Graeme Revell; production designer, Barry Chusid; produced by Gary Foster, Arnon Milchan and Avi Arad; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Ben Affleck (Matt Murdock), Jennifer Garner (Elektra Natchios), Colin Farrell (Bullseye), Michael Clarke Duncan (Wilson Fisk), Jon Favreau (Foggy Nelson), Scott Terra (Young Matt), Joe Pantoliano (Ben Urich), Leland Orser (Wesley Owen Welch), Erick Avari (Nikolas Natchios), Derrick O’Connor (Father Everett) and David Keith (Jack Murdock).


Iron Man 3 (2013, Shane Black)

Iron Man 3 feels a lot like the end of the series, which isn’t a bad thing–Robert Downey Jr. does the hero’s journey thing quite well–but director Black handles it oddly. After spending the entire movie pairing Downey with buddies, whether love interest Gwyneth Paltrow, sidekicks Don Cheadle and Jon Favreau, his computer and even an adorable little kid, Downey finishes the movie by himself.

But he’s just learned he can’t get by without a little help from his friends.

Anyway, it’s a stumble after an incredibly entertaining couple hours. Even when the film’s being serious–and sometimes even frightening (the villains are quite good)–it’s always a lot of fun. Downey and Paltrow are wonderful together, as usual, and Black never lets it get too somber. The end credits are self-congratulatory in the best way (if playing into the series finale thing a little much).

Cheadle doesn’t have a lot to do–Iron Man 3 could be a lot longer; more movie would plug most of its plot holes (besides Downey going from experienced marksman to novice in twenty minutes)–but he’s good. Ditto for Rebecca Hall as an ex-girlfriend. She and Paltrow get nowhere near enough time together.

The big surprises are Ben Kingsley as the supervillain and Guy Pearce as a business rival. Kingsley’s excellent, but Pearce’s spellbinding. He walks off with the movie. He alone makes it worth seeing.

The only real bad spot is Brian Tyler’s crappy score.

Otherwise, it rocks.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Shane Black; screenplay by Drew Pearce and Black, based on the Marvel Comics character created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck and Jack Kirby; director of photography, John Toll; edited by Peter S. Elliot and Jeffrey Ford; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Bill Brzeski; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Walt Disney Studios.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), Don Cheadle (Colonel James Rhodes), Guy Pearce (Aldrich Killian), Rebecca Hall (Maya Hansen), Jon Favreau (Happy Hogan), James Badge Dale (Savin), William Sadler (President Ellis), Ty Simpkins (Harley Keener), Miguel Ferrer (Vice President Rodriguez) and Ben Kingsley (The Mandarin).


Cowboys & Aliens (2011, Jon Favreau), the extended version

Five screenwriters get credit on Cowboys & Aliens. I wonder which one (or ones) are responsible for the stupider “twists” in the plot. Cowboys is stupid the entire time, of course, but it gets even dumber as it progresses.

The movie’s big problem is director Favreau. He isn’t just incapable of directing actors (Olivia Wilde’s performance is atrocious beyond belief), he can’t keep track of a big cast. He’s constantly losing track of the characters, usually in action scenes when he needs to be paying attention.

I assume he’s also responsible for telling cinematographer Matthew Libatique to shoot the film through a muddy lens and he okayed Harry Gregson-Williams’s lame score too. In short, Favreau’s a disastrous director for this movie. It doesn’t even feel like he’s seen a Western before.

For example, Daniel Craig’s supposed to be playing a “Man With No Name” type. Except he’s kind to dogs so the viewer knows he’s really all right. While Craig’s lack of personality is partially his own fault (the script and Favreau do no favors), he’s visibly contemptuous of the material. It’s obvious he thinks it’s stupid.

And it is stupid. It’s terribly stupid. But Harrison Ford manages to give an all right performance, even with a dumber character arc than Craig’s got.

There’s some outstanding supporting work from, no surprise, Sam Rockwell and also Paul Dano and Keith Carradine. Walton Goggins shows up in way too small a part and is great.

Cowboys & Aliens‘s imbecility, surprisingly, overpowers its incompetence.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jon Favreau; screenplay by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, based on a story by Fergus, Ostby and Steve Oedekerk and a graphic novel by Fred Van Lente, Andrew Foley, Dennis Calero, Luciano Lima, Luciano Kars, Silvio Spotti and Jeremy Wilson; director of photography, Matthew Libatique; edited by Dan Lebental and Jim May; music by Harry Gregson-Williams; production designer, Scott Chambliss; produced by Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Johnny Dodge, Kurtzman, Lindelof, Orci and Scott Mitchell Rosenberg; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Daniel Craig (Jake Lonergan), Harrison Ford (Woodrow Dolarhyde), Olivia Wilde (Ella Swenson), Sam Rockwell (Doc), Adam Beach (Nat Colorado), Paul Dano (Percy Dolarhyde), Keith Carradine (Sheriff John Taggart), Clancy Brown (Meacham), Noah Ringer (Emmett Taggart), Ana de la Reguera (Maria) and Walton Goggins (Hunt).


I Love You, Man (2009, John Hamburg)

Could Paul Rudd make less of an impression in I Love You, Man? Even before Jason Segel shows up, Rudd is completely ineffectual. He’s supposed to be ineffectual, of course, but he’s also the protagonist of the movie. He doesn’t garner sympathy, he garners pity.

But Hamburg’s whole approach is peculiar. He opens the movie with Rudd proposing to Rashida Jones. It kicks off the plot–Rudd’s search for a best man. The structure is awkward. Hamburg seems to acknowledge people will mostly be watching Man on home video and so he doesn’t need to make the opening at all cinematic. It’s defeat from the opening Los Angeles montage.

Hamburg does have some secret weapons. First is Segel, who’s hilarious as the sort of bumbling, sort of charming potential best who throws Rudd’s boring life for a spin. A measured spin (Man‘s rather boring overall). Second is Jon Favreau, who has a small role as Jaime Pressly’s husband. He’s astoundingly great. Pressly (one of Jones’s friends) is surprisingly good too. Hamburg gets these excellent supporting performances, but not one out of Rudd. It hurts the movie.

There’s also Jones. She’s quite good, but her character has absolutely no backstory. It’s like Hamburg didn’t want to give her white parents, but wasn’t willing to confirm she’s biracial. It screams cop out.

Other good supporting turns from Jane Curtin, J.K. Simmons and Andy Samberg as Rudd’s family.

I Love You, Man‘s only really funny twice. But it’s genial, if uninventive, throughout.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by John Hamburg; screenplay by Hamburg and Larry Levin, based on a story by Levin; director of photography, Lawrence Sher; edited by William Kerr; music by Theodore Shapiro; production designer, Andrew Laws; produced by Hamburg and Donald De Line; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Paul Rudd (Peter Klaven), Jason Segel (Sydney Fife), Rashida Jones (Zooey Rice), Jaime Pressly (Denise McLean), Sarah Burns (Hailey), Andy Samberg (Robbie Klaven), J.K. Simmons (Oswald Klaven), Jane Curtin (Joyce Klaven), Jon Favreau (Barry McLean), Lou Ferrigno (Himself), Rob Huebel (Tevin Downey), Joe Lo Truglio (Lonnie) and Thomas Lennon (Doug Evans).


G-Force (2009, Hoyt Yeatman)

I’m not a fan of the popcorn movie argument–it’s the one where people tell you you’re just supposed to enjoy the movie and not think about it–Stephen Sommers uses it in his defense and so does, somewhat more interestingly, Cameron Crowe (I think he called it populist to prove he’d been to college). Except if you aren’t supposed to think about something, why is it there? Don’t put it there if you don’t want someone to ask about it.

There is nothing to think about in G-Force. Not a single thing. There are fart jokes and there are cute little animals running around. They’re secret agents. Or commandos. It’s never clear. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention when Zach Galifianakis was explaining them (he created them) to boss Will Arnett because Galifianakis’s performance is the worst thing I’ve ever seen (not really, but close–he’s not having any fun and if you’re not having fun in G-Force, why are you in it?).

So these smart, talking, spy guinea pigs have a huge James Bond adventure. It’s fantastic. There’s never a suggestion anyone should think about anything after it’s happened–I’m not even sure there’s anything the viewer has to remember later on in the running time. It’s all present.

All the voices are good (it’s probably Jon Favreau’s best performance), but Steve Buscemi’s the real standout. And Tracy Morgan, he’s great.

G-Force also has excellent special effects, but they aren’t the point. There is no point.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Hoyt Yeatman; screenplay by Cormac and Marianne Wibberley, based on a story by Yeatman; director of photography, Bojan Bazelli; edited by Jason Hellmann and Mark Goldblatt; music by Trevor Rabin; production designer, Deborah Evans; produced by Jerry Bruckheimer; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Sam Rockwell (Darwin), Penélope Cruz (Juarez), Tracy Morgan (Blaster), Nicolas Cage (Speckles), Jon Favreau (Hurley), Steve Buscemi (Bucky), Bill Nighy (Leonard Saber), Will Arnett (Kip Killian), Zach Galifianakis (Ben), Kelli Garner (Marcie), Tyler Patrick Jones (Connor), Piper Mackenzie Harris (Penny), Gabriel Casseus (Agent Trigstad), Jack Conley (Agent Carter), Niecy Nash (Rosalita) and Justin Mentell (Terrell).


Iron Man (2008, Jon Favreau)

Iron Man is a qualified success. Robert Downey Jr. is fantastic throughout–the movie’s greatest strength is how much screen time he gets–and Jon Favreau does really well with the Iron Man scenes and the action scenes in general (he does terrible with almost everything else). But, while it also moderately succeeds as a romantic comedy–Downey and Gwyneth Paltrow’s performances in their absurdly written scenes are great–it fails dramatically. There’s no friendship between Downey and Terrence Howard (the movie doesn’t even need him) and here’s no father (figure) and son relationship between Downey and Jeff Bridges. Bridges is necessary to the movie, from a plot standpoint, and he’s far better are turning in a solid performance in a poorly sketched role than Howard. It also fails as any kind of commentary about war profiteering or weapons manufacturing. It pays lip service to the idea of Downey rushing off to save people… but he only gets around to it once. (Hey, it’s kind of like Rambo… except Stallone doesn’t wimp out of showing suffering).

Basically, it’s all about enjoying Downey’s performance and the Iron Man sequences. Downey’s got a gift for comedy and, even though Favreau can’t frame a comedy shot, he does get the tone right. Favreau’s best part is actually the Afghanistan sequence, which seems like it goes on too long, but then when he can never match it, it’s clear it was too short. Shaun Toub makes an impossible character work really well in that sequence.

The movie’s also something of a narrative mess, with the ending more appropriate for a less serious film. The end’s supposed to be goofy and fun, which Downey can do, but the movie doesn’t set itself up for that kind of conclusion. (I won’t mention the asinine post-credit “teaser,” which is embarrassing).

The special effects are mostly good. There’s some really bad CG and a few of the flying sequences are boring, but they’re solid. Favreau tends to get way too excited during action scenes and shoot in close-up (for budget reasons?) and it’s hard to tell what’s going on. He lifts some of the action directly from Robocop and Robocop 2, but it looks good and no one’s ever going to accuse Favreau of originality or innovation, so it’s harmless.

There are some major hiccups–the movie is occasionally way too long, like when Paltrow is off in the poorly directed industrial thriller with Bridges, or Ramin Djawadi’s warm to frozen score or Leslie Bibb’s terrible performance. She’s supposed to be playing a Vanity Fair reporter, but she doesn’t even seem suited for Soap Opera Digest. And Favreau’s filling the movie with cameos–including himself–kind of make it seem like Casino Royale, not a real movie.

But for what it is–a timid but reasonably self-aware attempt at a “real” superhero movie–it’s decent, even if Favreau’s lack of a visual tone for the movie is somewhat alarming. Mostly, it’s just really nice Downey will have some career security for a bit.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jon Favreau; written by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway based on the Marvel Comics character created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Matthew Libatique; edited by Dan Lebental; music by Ramin Djawadi; production designer, J. Michael Riva; produced by Avi Arad and Kevin Feige; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark), Terrence Howard (Jim Rhodes), Jeff Bridges (Obadiah Stane), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), Leslie Bibb (Christine Everhart), Shaun Toub (Yinsen), Faran Tahir (Raza), Sayed Badreya (Abu Bakaar) and Clark Gregg (Agent Phil Coulson).


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