Cowboys & Aliens is the latest offering from Iron-man director John Favreu and Dreamworks 3rd try at a comic-book inspired movie. This was one of the summer movies that I wasn’t really anticipating even though I liked the source material (Cowboys & Aliens comic from 2006) but the casting for this film was top notch so I decided to give it a go.
This film starts off pretty good, as in the starting scene of showing the vast emptiness of the surrounding was a nice ‘western-y’ thing to do. Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) is an interesting stranger introduced to us as someone who has amnesia and a strange bracelet on his wrist. Daniel Craig plays the bad-ass shrouded in mystery really well since he can kick ass and look cool at anytime. Normally I hate when actors have one default facial expression for any emotion that they’re trying to convey but it actually works if you’re the lead cowboy shrouded in mystery, maybe Channing Tatum and Josh Hartnett should consider such roles then. As cool as Daniel Craig is in this movie it’s still very obvious that he has the same amount of lines as a TV extra, I think only heard him speak a total of 6 minutes throughout the whole film. Another annoying thing was how they shot him everytime he had his cowboy hat on, half the time he was talking they weren’t showing his eyes. That technique actually works on certain scenes like the classic ‘drinking in the bar and the bad guys storm in while you’re downing your last shot of whisky’ but it happened way too many times in this film.
The movie was getting better as I saw more characters from the town of Absolution. However, the disappointment comes from two supporting actors Olivia Wilde and Harrison Ford. Olivia’s character Ella Swenson just seems out of place in every scene, although that might be her interpretation of how an ‘outsider’ is supposed to behave in that situation. Her wardrobe was bad too, a dress and a pistol? C’mon, please get some tips from Mattie Ross (True Grit) on how bad-ass girls are supposed to look like in a Western. The thing about Harrison Ford is that I’m not sure if he can’t act anymore or he just doesn’t feel like acting. Everytime I hear him talk I feel like he’s just making grunting sounds. It may not be his entire fault though since the writing for his character, Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyd, was horrible. His character was interesting at first as it looked like he would be the anti-hero or maybe even the one who betrays our heroes at some point but no, once shit hits the fan he suddenly loses all of that and becomes a good guy.
As for the minor characters Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano) was another let down. I know how good Paul Dano can act (ref: There will be Blood) but he just came out as a weird douche in the film, granted it was fun to see him get beat up by Daniel Craig. Doc (Sam Rockwell the guy that can do no wrong) was probably the only source of humor in this film although he also has an obvious plot set-up being the geeky guy that’s not very good with guns but ends up doing something awesome in the end, using a gun! As for Noah Ringer I didn’t care much for him as the grandson, or maybe it’s because I still hate him for playing Ang in the Last Airbender.
But after 20 or 30 minutes, when the Aliens show up, you get a slight boost in action and a steep decline in story. The thing I don’t like about these aliens, other than the fact that they look like every other generic insect-based aliens in other movies, is how dumb they turn out to be. The way Daniel Craig gets his wrist weapon is completely absurd, and if they can’t see very well in sunlight why don’t they just create high-tech visors like in the comic book. Albeit the film did do a bad job of showing the aliens had trouble in sunlight, ‘coz it sure didn’t look that way during the final battle scene.
If you’re seeing the film because of the title then you won’t be disappointed ‘coz you will definitely see cowboys slugging it out with aliens, you’ll even be surprised that there are Indians in this movie too (although I kinda spoiled that one for you huh). But this movie could’ve been so much more, the comic book had a secondary weapon (super duper green whip), explosive canisters that the Apache attached in their arrows to make them explode (better vs aliens compared to wooden sticks wouldn’t you agree?), alien visors and flying horses.. yes I said flying horses! Plus the main weapon that the hero gets has a few limitations and 3 different modes that can be applied in certain situations, it wasn’t always on ‘beat the shit out of the aliens so that we’re actually never in any real danger’ mode like in this film.
The graphic novel has a message and an analogy of how aliens invading ‘lesser’ beings on earth is akin to what it was like for Europeans when they invaded the Indians in the US which made the period setting (wild west) perfect! Cowboys were being victims of an invading hoard and when the aliens in the movie abducted people just like cowboys lasso the things they try to catch, I thought the film was going in that direction.. unfortunately it didn’t. I guess it’s my fault for expecting a bit more from a film that attempts to combine two different genres using 5 script writers! Cowboys & Aliens is still a watchable movie with a few good action scenes and great performances by the cast, excluding the Aliens of course.