The Herald Bulletin

July 28, 2011

Heather Bremer: Favreau makes A-list by treating material with respect

By Heather Bremer
The Herald Bulletin

— While most of our readers are focused on the Colts right now, I’m thinking about the Cowboys.

No, not the ones that opened training camp Thursday in San Antonio.

Rather, I’m focused on the ones who will be battling big baddies from outer space in today’s debut of “Cowboys & Aliens.”

While its title may reflect B-movie fare, “Cowboys & Aliens” is an A-list film across the board. It features A-list actors Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig and Olivia Wilde. “Star Trek” and “Fringe” scribes Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman had a hand in the screenplay. And “Iron Man” director Jon Favreau is at the helm.

At a time in the not-too-distant past, you wouldn’t have seen Favreau’s name related to anything remotely A-list.

A heralded indie film actor, Favreau was most renown for his role in the Vince Vaughn film “Swingers” in 1996 and a run of “Friends” episodes in 1997. He was memorable in “Very Bad Things” in 1998 and made the most out of small role in 2003’s “Daredevil,” as Matt Murdoch’s best friend and law partner Franklin “Foggy” Nelson.

Yet it was another 2003 project that began Favreau’s ascent to the A-list.

After directing a handful of TV movies and 2001’s “Made,” Favreau led his first big feature film, the Will Ferrell holiday comedy “Elf.” The film was well-received, grossing $220 million worldwide. The success was attributed to Ferrell’s popularity, but it was evident Favreau played a key role in elevating the material.

Favreau then directed the 2005 film “Zathura: A Space Adventure.” Centered around a board game like “Jumangi,” the film’s heart and depth surprised and its effects were better than expected of a children’s film. Box office numbers were not great but reviews lauded the film as smart and entertaining.

Still, comic book fans balked when Favreau was named director for Marvel’s “Iron Man.” Doubters said the director of “Elf” won’t be able to handle a project as massive or important to the future of Marvel films as “Iron Man.”

Favreau proved them all wrong.

“Iron Man” was a masterpiece that set the tone for the new Marvel film universe and sent us spiraling toward next summer’s “The Avengers.” It was a certified hit, earning $585 million worldwide and receiving rave reviews.

Some were still hesitant to attribute its success to Favreau — after all, it was Robert Downey Jr. who gave Tony Stark life.

But Favreau deserves accolades for treating the source material and its fans with utmost respect. In other hands, “Iron Man” could have been a major clunker.

Favreau went on to direct last year’s “Iron Man 2” and was a fan favorite to lead “Avengers.” But the project ultimately went to another geek god, Joss Whedon.

Favreau later opted out of “Iron Man 3,” disappointing many fans who feel the franchise won’t be the same without him.

Fortunately, he’s stuck with genre films. “Cowboys & Aliens” is loosely based on a graphic novel of the same name.

Again, Favreau’s commitment to taking seriously the more outlandish aspects of his film has turned B-movie camp into A-list gold.

Yippe-ki-yay, Mr. Favreau!

Contact Heather Bremer: 640-4867 or heather.bremer@heraldbulletin.com.