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Chapter Two: Jon Favreau & Kristen Stewart
New Moon, Iron Man 2 and Zathura

By Brett Beach

January 20, 2011

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I also didn’t care for all the side-plot setup for The Avengers movie. My heart should be thrilled that Joss Whedon is directing what is probably the most buzzed about film for next year, but I am suffering from comic book movie overload and the appearances of Nick Fury and Black Widow and Thor’s hammer and Captain America’s shield do nothing for me. Too often it seems as if they are competing for attention with Iron Man in his own movie.

Perhaps this is why Iron Man 2 performed at very similar levels to Iron Man both here and abroad, and didn’t add to the audience totals. There is a lot to like and take pleasure from individually, without the film ever coalescing into something greater than the sum of its parts. Downey’s fine work is not subsumed by the budget and neither is that of his co-stars. All are given at last one scene with which to shine (Rockwell’s dancing homage to James Brown as he takes the stage at a technology expo would be the shining example of this) and the film finds a way for Tony Stark to deal with life issues (looming death from the same device keeping him alive; unresolved father conflict) without becoming too self-serious.

While a lot of film fans may be eagerly awaiting Guillermo Del Toro’s take on The Haunted Mansion, I am more excited that Favreau has been handed the keys to The Magic Kingdom. If I understand it correctly from the interview I read, Disney has pegged him to make a Night at the Museum type adventure at the Happiest Place on Earth and are allowing him full access to any character, animated or live-action, from any Disney film ever, as well as any of the Lands at the Magic Kingdom itself. His joy over scoring such a gig was palpable and the reason I share that joy can be summed up in one word: Zathura.




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I may feel that the Iron Man films are underwhelming, but what they do capture well is a sense of the fantastical mingling with the everyday and the notion that a big imagination is needed in order to deal with larger than life problems. Zathura echoes this vibe as well, with its key image of a suburban house being uprooted from its foundation and floating off into space. Based on a children’s book from the author of Jumanji and The Polar Express, Zathura (subtitled A Space Adventure) may not be a true sequel to Jumanji, but it follows the same outline. An innocent-looking board game propels two antagonistic siblings into a fight for survival and the only way out is to get along and play the game through to the end. But there the similarities end. Jumanji was a showcase for Robin Williams in full mid-'90s man-boy mode and it was entertaining in spots, but also loud, noisy, overwrought and quite terrifying.

Zathura has just as much adventure but it conveys it much more innocently, without the wholesale destruction of an entire town. Charged with staying home while their father has to run back to the office on a Saturday, the two brothers in fact never do leave their house, even if the house itself takes off for solar systems as yet undiscovered. Favreau mines this inconsistency of the comforts of home useless in the dark depths of space for humor for most of the running time. This visual juxtaposition reaches its logical conclusion when, for very specific (and worthy) reasons, the family couch is lit on fire and shoved out into the cosmos via a gaping hole in the living room wall. Touches like that keep Zathura firmly grounded in the quirky without crossing over to freneticness.


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