For the last six months or so, our TV channels have been full of the same movies run every couple of weeks. How many times would you want to watch What Women Want or every freaking movie in the MCU in a 6-month period? It’s like their libraries have shrunk to a couple of dozen movies—on all channels! Fortunately or not, Halloween came along, so we got mostly repeats of anything with monsters (human or otherwise). One of the fun repeats was Cowboys and Aliens, directed by Jon Favreau. It’s a Western/SF mashup directed by Favreau who, as you know, directed Iron Man and a bunch of other movies, and stars as Happy Hogan in the MCU.) Because it’s a pretty good mashup, and has some pretty good (and favourite) actors in it, I didn’t mind this repeat, and so I present my review—originally written ten years ago in my personal blog, but newly updated for your <ahem!> edification.
The year is 1873, the place is the desert near Absolution, Arizona. Daniel Craig‘s character awakes in the desert after a confusing dream of bright lights; he is shoeless, and has what appears to be a grazing bullet wound on one side, plus a strange metal bracelet on his left wrist. He has no idea who or where he is, but finds a tintype of a young, attractive woman half-buried in the sand near him, which brings back some more confusing memories of the same young woman. While he is sitting on the sand he is accosted by three dirty, mangy-looking cowboys who have fresh scalps attached to their saddles. They, thinking a man with a bullet wound, no shoes and a metal cuff must be an outlaw or escaped convict, decide to take him prisoner, hoping to get a reward.
Within minutes, Craig is wearing their clothes, shoes and gun and headed for the nearby town, thus immediately proving he has not lost his action skills since his last James Bond movie (which at this time was Quantum of Solace). Upon arrival in Absolution, Craig meets the town preacher (Clancy Brown), gets his wound sewn up and gets into conflict with Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano), an arrogant young bully who thinks he can get away with anything in this town because his father’s the head honcho, “Colonel” Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). Craig also meets the town bartender, called “Doc” (Sam Rockwell), and his Hispanic wife Maria (Ana de la Reguera). He meets a young woman, Elle (Olivia Wilde), in the bar and, blindsided by her, is captured by the local sheriff, Taggart (Keith Carradine), who knows who Craig is—he’s Jake Lonergan, a wanted criminal.
Taggart puts Percy and Lonergan in a wagon to send them to the Federal Marshal at Albuquerque for arraignment and trial that night, but some mysterious lights in the sky turn out to be flying machines that attack the town, blowing things up and kidnapping various townspeople, including Doc’s wife, the sheriff and Percy. Jake discovers his mysterious bracelet is a blaster, and also shoots down one of the alien flying machines. The pilot escapes—nobody sees what “he” looks like, but a townsperson is brutally and noisily killed in the escape—and Dolarhyde and the remaining townsfolk, including a kid (the sheriff’s grandson), a dog (that belonged to the three men who initially ran into Jake) and the woman Elle—decide to wait till morning then track the escapee. Jake declines to accompany them, as he has recovered more memory and wants to find out if it’s true. Later he meets up with them and, with Dolarhyde, leads the fight against the aliens.
The plot/storyline here is not something you really want to think hard about; if not for the aliens, it could be just about any Western movie starring a couple of hardcases and a pretty young woman. The rationale for the aliens even being there is rather thin—I won’t say too much except that “there’s gold in them thar hills”—and the rationale for the kidnappings is even thinner. If I say too much about the plot I risk giving too much away, so I’ll just say that it holds water—barely—and why would you even expect a plot in a Western starring Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig and aliens? Come on, now—this is just an excuse for a fun mash-up, so just have fun with it! The writer, actors and director certainly did.
For what they’re given to work with, the actors do a creditable job: Craig is stony-faced for much of the movie, as befits a hero/antihero—or maybe that’s just who he is; Ford goes from gruff to nearly likeable as Dolarhyde; several of the minor actors, notably Adam Beach as an Apache fostered by Dolarhyde, and Walton Goggins as Hunt, do their parts well without too much scenery chewing. Sam Rockwell proves once more that he’s a chameleon as the bartender. And Keith Carradine proves once more that he’s one of the best actors in the remaining Carradine family. Again, considering how fast this movie has to move, it’s nice that the actors are able to bring any depth at all to their characters. (If you haven’t seen it already, you’ll understand Figure 3’s caption when you do.)
The special effects and action sequences were relatively well done. The aliens are fast, strong and repugnant; although many of them have the wrist blasters that Jake wears, they can kill with just their pointed limbs and can absorb an amazing amount of gunfire without apparent effect. The alien ship is well designed, but again, I can’t say too much without giving away too many plot points; you’ve already seen the little one-alien fliers in the trailers, but you haven’t seen all they’re capable of. There are explosions, gun fights, some pretty brutal fist fights between various humans, and it all chugs along pretty well. Cowboys & Aliens is based on the 2006 graphic novel of the same name created by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg.
When all is said and done, if you expect something deep from a film titled Cowboys and Aliens, you’re bound to be disappointed. If you go in expecting a superficial action movie set in the Old West, with a couple of major stars and a fair number of minor ones, then you will see what you expected; it’s all in your expectations, after all. Just go in, buy your popcorn or nachos and your cola, and sit back and watch the show. (Or if you’re watching on Netflix or whatever, your homegrown snack of preference.) You’ll have fun.
Comments? Go ahead—you can comment here or on Facebook, or even by email (stevefah at hotmail dot com). All comments are welcome! (Just be polite, please.) My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owner, editor, publisher or other columnists. See you next time!