Cowboys & Aliens

I don’t know if calling “Cowboys & Aliens” a disappointment is fair. I really didn’t have high expectations for it, so when I came out of it feeling like I saw a decent movie, what I should feel is pleasantly surprised.

But there’s a lot of talent surrounding this film. And after attending Favreau’s “Visionaries” panel, which he shared with Guillermo del Toro, I really wanted this film to be excellent.

Unfortunately, it’s not. It’s not bad, but it’s certainly not great, and in the end I wound up wishing they had just made a straight up Western instead.

The movie opens with Craig waking up in the brush, wounded and with amnesia. He also has a large metallic device locked around his arm. A trio of riders come across him, and when they threaten to “Take him in”, Craig quickly proves what a bad ass he is. He staggers into a nearby town and it isn’t long before he gets into a confrontation with the belligerent son of the local Cattle Baron (Ford) and is taken into custody. Apparently there’s quite a price on his head. Prior to losing his memory, he was a baaaaad man.

Ford is playing a character you’ve seen a dozen times before. The cattle baron/land owner/mine owner/oil baron who has a stranglehold on a small town. I’m not sure that he brings anything new to that trope, but he’s Harrison Ford. He’s a huge movie star for a reason, he’s an engaging on-screen presence. And this is the best role he’s had in years. Ford’s demanding the release of his son (who’s also in the jailhouse from the run in with Craig), and that Craig’s character be turned over to him.

That’s when the spaceships start coming.

The small ships zip about the town, firing explosive bolts and harpooning townspeople, then whisking them up and off into the night sky. Meanwhile, it turns out that the device attached to Craig is a weapon of alien technology, and he manages to shoot down an alien craft with it.

Once the spaceships retreat, the townsfolk form a posse to retrieve their kidnapped loved ones. All differences are forgiven and they band together, tracking a wounded alien back towards the mothership.

I wouldn’t say that the movie goes off track here. I mean it IS “Cowboys & Aliens”. And I have no problem with the high concept. It’s kind of cool, definitely genre bending, so if it were done a little better, I could have really bought into it. I think the main reason the movie disappoints is that it devolves into an action movie, and yet none of the action is very memorable. It’s almost unfair to compare this movie to the other movies these stars have been in, since they were in some great, great movies. But there’s no parkour chase opening sequence, there’s no running from the rolling boulder, or asteroid field sequence. Once Craig is done beating people up and they start fighting against Aliens, all the action is kind of lame.

And the CGI is a bit spotty, too, which definitely doesn’t help.

You certainly can’t blame the cast for any shortcomings the movie has. This movie is loaded with talent. The flick is headlined by Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, but on the team are Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Keith Carradine, Paul Dano and Walton Goggins. None of them mail it in, they all get the most out of whatever part they’ve been given. In fact, in the hands of a lesser cast, this movie would have gotten a far worse grade. But its great watching Craig kick the shit out of people. And no one plays world-weary as well as Harrison Ford.

In the end, even though the characters are made by your standard issue “Western Movie Cookie Cutter,” I wound up wishing I could have seen the cast play their given roles all the way through a full Western, as opposed to getting caught up with these boring, nondescript aliens.


7 thoughts on “Cowboys & Aliens

  1. Haven’t seen this yet, going to wait a few weeks. But I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for the pitch on this one. Because as much as a lot of people are terming it a “Western they added aliens to”, I kind of suspect that the sci-fi actually came first. “Let’s add aliens” isn’t quite a natural growth for a Western movie (and the mixed reactions so far seem to bear that out….) Westerns are about certain tropes — good guys and bad guys and the line between them being the big one — and aliens are a fairly radical departure, at least on the surface. But science fiction, on the other hand, is intrinsically about “What if?” It would be relatively easy to look at the “alien invasion” subgenre and say “You know, these invasions always take place in the present day or 20 minutes into the future. What if we set one in the past?” It’s something that could have been handled smartly… but which I must admit I don’t have huge hopes for out of Hollywood, even with such a crew of A-listers.

    • It was actually a graphic novel (which I’ve never read), so I suppose they just pitched it off of that.

      But you make excellent points about the nature of the two genres that are being mixed here, and I think that’s part of the movie’s issues. It just never seems to fit comfortably into your minds preconceived “Bookshelf slots”.

      I pretty much think they handled it about as smartly as they could… I just think the production values hurt it (they’d have needed a much bigger budget for special effects) more then anything. Maybe the one thing I would have changed is to not have given Daniel Craig that arm weapon, but in turn lessen the “Invulnerability” of the Aliens. If they could have been more easily hurt by normal bullets, then they wouldnt have needed to write that arm cannon in, and in turn, it would have been a more traditional “Cowboys vs Aliens” battle as you might have imagined it without seeing anything about this movie.

  2. You nail it, certainly not a bad movie but it doesn’t really much of an impression either. I loved the moody atmosphere of the westerns of old but the whole alien affair was just really generic and a bit dull.

      • From what I read, it was conscious decision to make a Western with S-F elements rather than a S-F with Western elements. Thinking more about it, I think this was an exersize in taking those Western tropes and run them through a new context to see what you can get. Clearly some think it was more successful than others, but I at least was entertained.

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