Review: Cowboys and Aliens

I can see the studio execs now – “You mean this movie will have cowboys AND aliens? Guy, this’ll be box office dynamite!” Of course, the only  the last sci-fi/western mash-up that springs to mind is Barry Sonnenfeld’s disastrous Wild Wild West, so a healthy return on your investment is not exactly guaranteed. I’d be willing to bet, though, that the fact Cowboys and Aliens was already a comic book got the picture greenlit faster than a quickdraw with Quicky McQuickson, the fastest draw in the West. Those kids lap up comic book movies…

Cowboys and Aliens opens with an injured and confused Daniel Craig waking in the middle of Arizona outback. Stranded out in the wilds, he has no recollection of who he is, or how he got there. The only clues are a picture of a woman he had grasped in his hand and a mysterious irremovable bracelet attached to his wrist.

Director John Favereau likes to keep himself busy, and with comic book adaps, by the looks. Cowboys and Aliens follows hot on the heels of the enjoyable Iron Man, and messy and disjointed but still fun Iron Man 2. Robert Downey Jr.’s sheer force of personality helped carry those two movies along, but Favereau doesn’t have that luxury this time, having to rely on a strong and silent Daniel Craig and a gruff and grumpy Harrison Ford (is there any other kind?). Cast perfectly to type, they pull it of effortlessly.

Having escaped the outback by violently dispatching three bounty hunters, Craig arrives in the small town of Absolution and his helped by the kindly town preacher, Meachem. While there he manages to upset the town’s richest rancher and only source of income, Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford), by dealing with Dolarhyde’s son, Percy (Paul Dano, who’ll you definitely recognise from There Will Be Blood), who’s drunkenly shooting up the town. He then gets himself arrested by the town sheriff when he’s recognised from a wanted poster as Jake Lonergan, a murderous and thieving outlaw. In the dead of night, the sheriff prepares Lonergan for transport and is confronted by Dolarhyde and his gang. And just as you think there’s going be a Rio Bravo-esque stand-off, all hell breaks loose when those pesky aliens from the film’s title attack.

Despite the film’s B-movie premise, Cowboys and Aliens seems to take itself a little too seriously. There are no real laugh out loud moments. It relies too much upon “a man can change” and “a good man can despise war but never shies away from a battle”-type messages instead of really cutting loose and having fun with the whole idea. The aliens themselves are your typical CGI beasties. Big and gruesome, but utterly forgettable. The only scares coming from the sudden loud noise on the soundtrack. Also, it suffers from everything being a little too dark and the modern preoccupation with the wobbly camera when it comes to action scenes. I think the biggest disappointment, though, is the utter waste of Sam Rockwell as Doc, the town barkeep, and Clancy Brown as Meachem, the preacher. Both are fine actors but are given very little to do, Rockwell in particular looking as he was doing it as a favour to Favereau.

That said, I very much enjoyed Olivia Wilde, who is devastatingly pretty (almost too pretty for the wild west). She plays Ella, a girl who develops a strange affinity with Lonergan, and who too has her secrets. Unlike the empty vessel that is Blake Lively in The Green Lantern, Wilde actually does dare to display some personality and it’s good to see her holding her own with Craig and Ford. I now feel bad for dismissing her as just another exceptionally beautiful face.

The film goes by at a fair old lick, and I never once found myself distracted or looking at my watch during the two-hour twenty-minute running time. The story is well told and occasionally touching, and the action is competently handled. It’s solid rather than exceptional, much like it’s director. If you’re looking for something amazing and mind-blowing, this definitely isn’t it. If you don’t set your expectations too high, you’ll enjoy it. I know I did.

More Reviews:

Troll Hunter

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Captain America: The First Avenger

Tron

The Girl With Dragon Tattoo (2009)

Hackers

WarGames

Super 8

The Parallax View

Swamp Thing

X-Men First Class

The Human Centipede

Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen

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