A man wakes up in the middle of the desert. He’s bleeding from a surgical-type incision on his side and he’s got a mysterious metal bracer on his arm. He doesn’t know who he is or how he got there. When he makes his way to the nearest town, he finds out some details.
The man in the desert is Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig), and the town he ends up in is Absolution, in the New Mexico territory. Unfortunately for Jake, Absolution is a town in the pocket of Col. Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). It just so happens that Lonergan stole a bag full of gold from Dolarhyde and that Lonergan is a wanted man. However, before Sheriff John Taggart (Keith Carradine) can hand Lonergan over to federal marshals, a squadron of unidentified flying vehicles start scooping up townsfolk and dropping explosives on everything.
That’s right, kids. It’s Cowboys & Aliens, and there’s a good old-fashioned standoff brewing. It’s up to Lonergan, Dolarhyde, and the remaining townsfolk to get back their kin and single-handedly stave off an alien invasion. All in a day’s work!
From top to bottom, Cowboys & Aliens has a stellar cast. From stars Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford to love interest Olivia Wilde and supporting players like Sam Rockwell, Clancy Brown, Paul Dano, and Keith Carradine, this is a movie with a lot of great pieces to work with, and they all fit together very well.
Daniel Craig, in particular, has a face fit for westerns. He looks like the lovechild of Paul Newman (with his soulful blue eyes) and Steve McQueen (all weathered and brooding). Since a quick search reveals no western credits, let me be the first to say that it’s a horrible shame that he’s never worn a cowboy hat until now. He’d be a great player in a western flick.
Really, that’s one of the problems I had with Cowboys & Aliens. They had this great cast, and a great western setting, and all I really wanted to see was this same group of folks in an actual western, not in a weird West space alien flick.
The parts where it was more of a straight western (riding the range with a posse, hunting down the bad guys, running across bandits, etc.) were very good, and very satisfying. The more science fiction-y parts of the film were a bit of a letdown. The final battle between the humans and aliens is particularly weak, as the scenes of people getting dragged off of horses by flying CGI get old pretty quickly.
The action in this movie doesn’t really work quite as well as it should, which is disappointing. The creatures are suitably horrifying, but they’re just basically Xenomorphs mixed with Predators and filmed in the dark to hide the lines of data. There’s nothing particularly novel about them, aside from the fact that they vary wildly from bulletproof to easily susceptible to rifle shots, depending on the plot.
I can only imagine that the movie’s scattershot approach to the aliens is due to the script’s many, many writers. Five writers contributed to the screenplay (Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus, and Hawk Ostby, with Steve Oedekirk also contributing to the screen story as well), which means that there are a lot of people with a lot of different ideas, directions, and goals for the movie. That shows, as the story is pretty simple on the surface, but there are a lot of elements crammed into the flick’s one hundred-eighteen minutes of runtime, and perhaps it tries to do too many things in the process of being a big summer blockbuster.
That said, Cowboys & Aliens is a big summer blockbuster, akin to Favreau’s Iron Man, but it’s just not quite as good as the former movie. It’s more like Iron Man 2, in that it’s a little too unfocused. If fifteen to thirty minutes had been cut from the movie, it would improve things greatly.
Favreau’s a great director of actors, but he’s not exactly a steady hand with action quite yet. He’s got the potential, but he leans too much on the same things. It’s as if he gets a few cool sequences in his head, but doesn’t have anything to string them together. So, he just keeps repeating those awesome sequences until they become boring. Although, the first few times you see some of these scenes, it’s pretty cool.
Cowboys & Aliens has a lot of potential, but like a lot of kids with potential, it coasts on its strengths and doesn’t really work hard to improve on its deficits. It could have been way better than it ended up being, and the fact that it wasn’t makes it a disappointment. An entertaining disappointment, but still a disappointment.