Cowboys & Aliens, 2011.
Directed by Jon Favreau.
Starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, Clancy Brown and Keith Carradine.
When aliens attack the town of Absolution, a loner with no memory of his past holds the key to their defeat.
Cowboys and Aliens. Cowboys and aliens. Cowboys… and aliens… Well, if ever a film delivered on its title, this was it. I mean, there is no feasible way you can get this film wrong from its name. And that is truly excellent work by the writers. Unfortunately, not much else is truly excellent. Don’t get me wrong, the film was enjoyable; it featured James Bond and Indiana Jones (!!) and it certainly fulfilled its poster promises, but… it’s a film about cowboys and aliens!
So what was good about the film? Well, the opening was brilliant. It screamed gritty Western. James Bond escapes his captors with brutal efficiency before saving a local town simply by being brooding and muscular. A grumpy Indiana wants James’ head for stealing his gold but is stopped in his tracks by the local sheriff. All is in place for a great modern cowboy film… And then the aliens come along. Twenty minutes in and the film goes from great and promising to average and predictable. Although the cowboys of 1875 react sincerely to the strange flying objects and random abductions, and although I really wanted the two to merge well, one can’t help but feel that cowboys and aliens are two genres that just shouldn’t be mixed, no matter how good the acting from Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford and the direction from Jon Favreau. Sorry guys, it just doesn’t work.
Of course, this simple error is not helped by the stereotypical characters. For example: the war-dumb Native Americans; the young boy who becomes a man during battle when, in reality, he would be bricking himself if an alien touched his face with its (drastically too humanoid) hands; and the doc who doesn’t know how to use a gun but learns just when the moment is right.
What’s more, there is no good reason why the aliens are there. They want gold. Why? Because it’s rare. Okay. That’s great. Good for them. And why (and how?!) did Olivia Wilde follow them across the universe? Because they destroyed her planet and she doesn’t want them to do the same to others. Okay, I get that. But if she can take the form of anyone and understand their language, why doesn’t she just move elsewhere – somewhere the aliens are not? Like Venus. Venus looks nice. I’m sorry, Olivia, but you clearly don’t care about Earth enough to kamikaze yourself off to save it.
The major problem is we just don’t care. We haven’t got an emotional attachment to these characters. I don’t care if Bond’s missus was killed by the aliens. He hardly says anything in the whole film for me to care about him. I don’t care if Olivia’s planet was blown up because she does nothing in the film but look pretty. And I don’t care if the town folk find their abducted relatives because they did nothing to make me like them. And that’s such a shame, because there were some great comedy moments where characters started to develop and we laughed with them, but these were not followed through enough to give the emotional resonance needed for us to care about what happened to them at the end of the film.
This film feels like too much of a mash-up between a Western and a Sci-Fi. It does the Western part really well. And, actually, it does the Sci-Fi part pretty well. But it doesn’t make the connection between the two great enough and it doesn’t make our connection with its heroes deep enough. This leaves you as an audience member feeling as though you have been watching a bog standard action film rather than engaging with a solid and enjoyable story.
If you want to see an action film, go and see Cowboys & Aliens. It won’t hurt you. If you want to see a Sci-Fi film, go and see Cowboys & Aliens. It will probably satisfy you in an unusual way. But if you have been holding out all of your life to see the cowboy and alien genres merged, I would advise you to hold out for something better.
5 out of 10.