Cowboys and Aliens officially wins the award for the most awesome movie premise of the summer: take two of the most iconic action stars of this generation and the last, put them in a genre that has been practically begging for a comeback, sprinkle sci-fi onto it, and give helm to the director of one of the most successful superhero blockbusters of recent date. Forgive me, but I couldn’t help but give high expectations to a premise this crazy and filled with potential, especially when all things considered, a good majority of this summer’s movie line up has set the bar pretty high thanks to films like Thor, X-Men First Class, Cap, Super 8, and the last Harry Potter. This could very easily be the last big hit I anticipate this summer before the Fall season hits its stride in a couple months.
After seeing the movie myself, my final verdict is more or less exactly what one should expect from such hype: disappointingly average.
The movie stars Daniel Craig as Jake Lonergan, a gun-slinging outlaw with amnesia, and Harrison Ford as Colonel Dolarhyde, an iron-fisted overseer with schizophrenia (seriously, he might as well be with how often his personality changes). The main premise of the movie begins with Lonergan waking up in the middle of the desert with a metallic bracelet stuck to his wrist. When he enters the town of Absolution, only to discover he is a wanted man, Dolarhyde demands custody of him. This, however, is cut short when the aliens promised from the title come and start doing alien stuff. (You know, shining lights of doom, destroying livestock, abducting people. The usual.) They only stop when Lonergan’s metallic bracelet activates at the sight of threats to its wearer and fires repulsive beams of destruction that in no way look like the repulsor ray blasts on Iron Man’s suit from another one of Mr. Favreau’s movies.
What follows is Lonergan and Dolarhyde leading a group of town misfits to hunt down the aliens and save their abducted loved ones. Said misfits include Olivia Wilde as the hot stalker girl with her own secret, Clancy Brown as a preacher, Sam Rockwell as a doctor, Adam Beach as an adopted Indian so he can play the obvious plot device of translator, and Noah Ringer as some random kid who happens to be the grandson of the sheriff, because I guess all westerns have one of those, and they might as well get the kid who they thought would be the next big childhood star before his franchise crashed into the great wall of Ba-Sing-Se in one of the biggest train wrecks of recent note (thanks M. Night).
This is probably one of the more difficult movies I’ve had to review. In the past when I’ve had to review movies that clearly have problems (The Last Airbender and Green Lantern are two good examples), I’ve been able to put on a positive swing and point out things I still enjoyed despite their flaws. With Cowboys and Aliens however, there aren’t any real technical flaws with the movie. The cast is great, acting’s great, setting is great, effects are great (especially the aliens themselves), and the story overall is interesting enough to keep my attention. There’s nothing I can say that’s really wrong with the movie, it’s just missing one crucial ingredient:
For the record, I am a huge fan of the Iron Man movies. Both of them, and no amount of people complaining that the final boss fights in those movies were anticlimactic is going to sway me. Favreau approached that franchise in a very unique fashion (for Marvel that is) that focused on the characters rather than the action. Cowboys and Aliens, is very similar in that regard: it is a character piece aimed to pay homage to classic western tropes with a sprinkle of sci-fi action as a spice of originality. Unfortunately the one thing the Iron Man movies have that this doesn’t is a fun script (Wait, scratch that. Half of Stark’s dialogue in Iron Man was improvised, because RDJ is an effing genius). That’s not to say the writing in this movie is terrible, or even bad, it’s just not fun. The entire main cast is full of western stock characters that never evolve past their tropes. I wait forever for someone to say something clever, witty, unexpected, sarcastic, or anything that would break the conventions of their characters, and it never happens. Everyone, save for maybe Ford, plays their parts completely strait, and everything that happens to them is all too predictable.
You’d think with a premise as crazy and out there as “Cowboys and Aliens” that they’d have more fun with it. Kind of a shame really, because the more I think about it, the cast themselves probably did have a lot of fun in the making of this movie. To be fair, there was a fair bit of physical humor that was pretty well timed. I genuinely liked Rockwell as the Doc. Ringer, while still pretty raw as far as acting goes, is “better” here than he was as Aang last year (though that may just be due to a competent director this time). When we actually find out about what it is the aliens are after, while it is a bit hoaky, some will definitely get a kick out of it as it loosely references another, unbearably notorious sci-fi film back in the day.
Besides that, very middle of the road. Not bad, but nothing spectacular either. Can’t say whether or not it follows the source material, as I’ve never read it. How much you get out of it is going to depend on your own personal taste. If you have been aching to see something to capture that classic western tone of yesteryear, than you might be in luck. If you are looking for something a little more crazy that will make the most of the western/sci-fi blend, than the best option I can give you is to start watching Firefly IMMEDIATELY if you haven’t already.
That, or the opening sequence of Toy Story 3. That was awesome too.