A dilapidated gold rush town now run by a seemingly ruthless cattle boss. A lynch mob. A canyon ambush. And aliens. It’s all there in Cowboys & Aliens. The film delivers on the title in spades. But as the credits began to roll and I whipped out my phone to make my notes, I found myself not having a ton of things to type in for later. I couldn’t figure out what the deal was. Did I like it? Did it suck? Find out in a little bit. But first…
Mission Impossible 4 – Yep. When you go to the movies every week, you start seeing the same trailers over and over again.
War Horse – The trailer opens with “A Steven Spielberg Film” which grabs my attention. The rest of the trailer? Not so much. Lots of shots of a kid, and lots of shots of a horse. Not a lot of other details. Oh, it’s World War I.
Three Musketeers – How many times has this book been adapted for the silver screen? I don’t care. Milla Jovovich as M’Lady De Winter and Christoph Waltz (famously Hans Landa from Inglorious Basterds) as Richelieu have me looking forward to this one. Plus, they’re going steampunk a bit it looks like. That can’t be bad, right? Right??
The Amazing Spider-Man – My Dad looks at me after this one is finished and says, “Really?” Exactly, Dad. Exactly.
Battleship – It’s the Milton Bradley game made into a movie, only the bad guy’s pieces are aliens. But hey, it’s got Tim Riggins from FNL in it so there’s that.
Tower Heist – A thuggish Eddie Murphy teams up with Ben Stiller to take down Alan Alda, a Bernie Madoff-like investment guru who stole a bunch of money. Oh yeah, it’s directed by Brett Ratner. I think I’ll pass.
The movie starts out pretty much the same way the previews suggest – Daniel Craig wakes up in the middle of nowhere in his long johns, not knowing who or where he is. He ends up in town at a bar, has a near-standoff with the unruly son of the local cattle baron, and gets locked up for being a wanted man. The unruly son gets locked up for accidentally shooting a deputy. Harrison Ford, the cattle baron, learns of his son’s plight and organizes a lynch mob to come and collect his son. It seemed like they were setting up Ford’s character to be the antagonist of the film, and if this movie had just been titled “Cowboys,” that probably would have been the case. But not long after Ford’s lynch mob arrives in town to collect his wayward whelp the real antagonist arrives and begins abducting the townsfolk in what appears to be the alien equivalent of round-up, complete with alien lassos. Daniel Craig manages to shoot one of the alien craft out of the sky with his mysterious bracelet-turned-alien-killer-thing. The townsfolk lose many to the alien abductors. Amongst the abducted are the Sheriff and Harrison Ford’s son. This, of course, forces Harrison Ford to team up with Daniel Craig, and they give the aliens a merry chase. All the while, the mysterious and striking Olivia Wilde hovers about, acting quite mysterious yet remaining striking throughout. You know she knows more about what’s going on.
As the story unfolds, we learn that the aliens are after one thing. It’s not us… It’s not our water… It’s not all of our natural resources, no. They’re after… Gold. Apparently, they love gold. It’s as rare to them as it is to us. As far as I remember, though, they didn’t really explain why they love gold, or why they need it. It also didn’t really explain all of the people round-ups that had been happening. If they’re after the gold, why round up all of the people? Snacks, I guess?
Throughout the film I kept thinking to myself that this was a movie with an identity crisis. Each time I thought that, I chuckled and was reminded that the movie is in fact called Cowboys and Aliens. I suppose I’d hoped for a better merging of the genres, something like Firefly. Firefly was a sort of “space western,” set in the future, but heavily infused with wild west elements. The thing was, given the premise of that show, it worked well. Here, it doesn’t work so well. The cowboy scenes are very cowboy… Open ranges, posses on horseback, your typical western fare. The “alien” scenes feel out of place. I simply think they could have merged the two better, instead of it being a case of dueling genres.
This one had a solid cast. Daniel Craig was great as the bad-guy-turned-good and handled himself pretty well as a cowboy. At first I wasn’t really sure about his accent, but he doesn’t do a whole lot of talking so it works out fine. The film makes good use of Olivia Wilde, taking advantage of her striking features to make you think that something isn’t quite right there. Sam Rockwell plays the doctor-turned-saloon-owner who finds his courage and helps save the day. Harrison Ford’s does a good job, but it felt like the movie couldn’t quite figure out what it wanted to do with the guy. First he’s a ruthless cattle baron who will circumvent the law for a son he doesn’t care for at all. Next, we learn that he’s a grizzled civil war veteran that lost a bunch of men at Antietam while fighting for the Union. The problem is, we later learn that when he was a boy, he spent time with his father in Mexico. Did he grow up in the South and fight for the North? It’s confusing. After that, he serves as a father figure for no less than three characters. Despite all of that, Harrison Ford’s performance was my favorite of the movie.
All in all, this was a decent summer movie that felt like the filmmakers simply couldn’t make up their minds about what they wanted it to be. The action sequences were well done, the effects were interesting, and the alien design was one of the more unique that I’ve seen in awhile. It had all the trappings of both a western and an alien invasion film, but it just doesn’t blend the two genres as well as it could have. Because of that, I ended up being a little disappointed.