2.5 out of 5 stars
Cowboys! Aliens! Just throw in some dinosaurs and we’ll officially have the most ridiculous movie ever made.
But unfortunately we’re only two thirds of the way there, and Cowboys & Aliens tries to convince you that it’s NOT ridiculous, but rather a legitimate concept for an action film that you should take very, very seriously.
The serious man in charge is Jake Lonergan(Daniel Craig), an outlaw who wakes up in the desert with no memory, a cauterized wound and an alien weapon strapped to his hand. He wanders into town, causes some trouble, and unfortunately everyone ELSE still realizes he’s an outlaw, and he’s soon headed to prison along with the douchebag son (Paul Dano) of local powerful cattle rancher, Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford).
But before his transport can be arranged, aliens attack, which will always change your plans for the day. They blow up most of the local establishments and snatch up half the town’s residents. Jake and Dolarhyde, former enemies, now must band together with the rest of the town’s survivors (among them Sam Rockwell’s skittish Doc and Olivia Wilde’s mysterious Ellen) and get their people back come hell, high water or a civilization thousands of years more advanced than theirs.
She looks good in any era.
I feel like this movie had to have gone through a serious shift in tone at some point, probably after Robert Downey Jr. left the project and was replaced by Daniel Craig. It’s easy to imagine Downey Jr. taking on aliens with a wink and a smile, but Craig doesn’t have a funny bone in his body, and I have to believe the movie was shifted to reflect that.
For all the praise Craig has drawn as the new James Bond, I’ve never been in his camp as a leading actor. He’s the stoic action hero to a tee visually, between rippling muscles and piercing blue eyes, but he rarely exudes anything resembling personality. This is unfortunate especially for the Bond series, but it translates to his other film’s here including this one. And by giving his character amnesia to boot? He couldn’t have less dimensions if he tried.
The fact that this movie isn’t funny shouldn’t be necessarily leveled as a criticism however, as many are citing in other reviews. Rather, the more I think about it, the more I appreciate the core concept. What would it be like if aliens did NOT invade when we had all our modern gadgets? What if they came in a time before fighter jets and tanks and anything that remotely seemed like it could be effective against that? We’d have to all team up together, get extremely creative and this kind of charge into certain death isn’t necessarily an humorous concept.
“Did I do thaaat?”
What’s strange though is that despite its unique setting, the plot closely resembles that of another sci-fi film, and fortunately for Cowboys & Aliens, one much worse than this. The film in fact shares many similarities with Battlefield Earth, where aliens invade, enslaving humans with the goal of acquiring a very particular resource, and the alien’s own technology is appropriated and used against them. Thankfully, the idea is better this time around, and we don’t have to deal with John Travolta looking insane in the world’s worst dreadlocks wig.
So the problem isn’t the core concept or the way it chooses to be executed. So what is it? If I had to pinpoint something, it would be the pacing, which seems endlessly slow at the beginning of the film, and only picks up in the film’s final battle. I actually enjoyed that section of the movie, as it was by far the most exciting and even threw in some vaguely emotional moments for good measure, mostly involving Harrison Ford since Craig doesn’t seem to have feelings.
I did take issue with a few tactical issues in the final showdown, like one scene in particular which had a bunch of enemy aliens scurrying toward Craig down a hallway. I thought he was going to have to come up with some brilliant strategy to escape the onslaught, but instead just fires up his wrist-gun and blasts about 12 of them into pieces as they come. That’s it? And don’t they have the same damn guns they could be using on him?
“We speak the universal language of hot lead!”
I appreciate the effort that went into this film, but I can see how a lot of people are going to be disappointed that the man responsible for Elf and Iron Man gave them this straight-faced interpretation of a fictional, historic, intergalactic war between Cowboys and Aliens. Even the title sounds like a punchline.
It’s not a bad try, but the final product takes too long to spool up, and by the time it gets going, it’s too late. I think there was a good idea in here somewhere, but it got lost in the 10,000 lightyear journey over.
2.5 out of 5 stars