This does contain some minor spoilers
Cowboys & Aliens was an awkward movie in terms of anticipation towards its release. Expecting more than what was already given to you in the title would be silly on your part and the premise already seemed really simple yet kind of brilliant since you probably can’t name another time aliens were brought in to the western genre. Anticipation on my end fluctuated; I thought it looked so-so for the longest time, then at one time I was REALLY excited for it, and then my excitement for it had all but died by the time the screening finally came around thanks to less than stellar reviews and word spreading around the internet that the potential summer blockbuster was rather mediocre at best. Cowboys & Aliens is kind of funky in what it actually offers its audience because there seems to be just as many bad or floundering things about the film that there are good.
The opening scene let’s you know what you’re in for as Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the middle of a desert with no memory, a strange wound to his abdomen, and a mysterious bracelet strapped to his left arm that seems to be permanently attached to him for good. Three men stumble onto Jake who think he’s just escaped prison and attempt to take him in under the assumption there’s a bounty on his head. Jake defeats all three men in spectacular fashion before stealing their clothes and a gun. Jake is essentially an insatiable bad ass. Even as we learn more about his character as the movie progresses, there’s never really an explanation why Jake can somehow take out half a dozen men or more consistently throughout the movie. That’s pretty much all you get out of Jake, too. If you were expecting any actual personality or emotion from the guy, then you’re looking in the wrong place.
In fact, all of the leads in this sci-fi action extravaganza are really boring. Harrison Ford basically comes off as portraying himself and is nothing more than a bitter old man who’s pessimistic about everything. Then there’s Olivia Wilde, who’s shown how wide her acting range truly is on “House, MD”, but has been nothing but dull in her blockbuster roles. Her character, Ella Swenson, has some interesting aspects but they’re kind of all over the place and never effectively come together in the proper fashion to be considered a well developed character. She also tends to have the same stupid look on her face the entire movie without much portrayal of emotion. The most interesting roles lie within the supporting characters. Hands down the best character in the movie is Clancy Brown’s Meacham; a quick-witted preacher who knows how to use a gun, has memorable dialogue, and makes himself useful more than anything. Paul Dano is also incredibly entertaining. He plays Percy Dolarhyde, the son of Harrison Ford’s Woodrow Dolarhyde. Dano is easily the most despicable character of the line up and his portrayal of the character is just so spot on. It was interesting to see Sam Rockwell play Doc, who is an all around good hearted individual. Rockwell makes the most of his part, but you’re used to seeing him play the villain or the vilest character on-screen. This was a welcome change of pace.
Cowboys & Aliens is really sporadic when it comes to the storyline, as well. Once we get a glimpse of the aliens, we eventually learn that they’ve come to earth to steal our gold. Besides melting it and having it float up to a puddle on the ceiling there doesn’t really seem to be much else they had planned for it. It’s as if they said to one another, “Our spaceship is seriously lacking in solid gold puddles peculiarly placed on our ceilings. Let’s find the nearest planet and rectify this dire situation.” As you’ve seen in the trailers, the dummy ships are sent out, capture humans by basically lassoing them with alien technology, and bring them back to the mother ship. It looks pretty cool the first few times, but you get kind of sick of it once you get past the first hour. So what are the aliens having the humans do? Enslaving mankind for some strange alien purpose perhaps? Only if you count having them stand around, stare at a light in the ceiling, and erasing their memory for a strange alien purpose. These aliens just have a fascination with things located on the roof. The aliens would look pretty awesome if it wasn’t for their eyes. They have these beady, bullfrog-like eyes that completely ruins whatever awesomeness they once had in their appearance. Their chests would also open up where you would see their beating heart along with a pair of three fingered hands that would attempt to shove a victim inside of them. It comes off as being more humorous than anything. It actually just reminded me of Kuato from Total Recall. “Quaid….start the reactor.”
The ridiculousness doesn’t end there though. When the aliens first come and Woodrow informs Jake that he’s coming with them in search of these aliens that just took their people, he hits Jake in the stomach with the butt of his gun and Jake immediately turns around and punches Woodrow in the face. They stare at each other almost longingly for what seems like an eternity before Jake finally walks away without them saying another word. I guess that’s how you have to make friends out in the old west. Once they find the mother ship and they’re planning their strategy on how they’re going to try and get into the alien craft Jake just leaves. He doesn’t say anything to anyone and everyone is just kind of like, “Oh, Jake is leaving.” The very next scene Jake finds reinforcements, mentions how hard it was to find them even though it seemed like he just walked around a corner, and brings them back to help on the mission. Miracles seem a lot more outlandish in westerns these days.
Cowboys & Aliens is not terrible. It’s actually fairly amusing and crazy entertaining when it needs to be. Unfortunately bringing aliens into a western atmosphere is a really awkward transition that isn’t pulled off smoothly. The entire movie as a whole comes off as bizarre and fantastically farfetched the majority of the time. With its weaknesses taking center stage, it’s difficult to consider Cowboys & Aliens as anything more than crazy, stupid fun.
Sources: imdb.com, filmofilia.com