That is such a straight to video B-Movie title for a film, I think we can all agree. Sounds like something The Asylum would make to shamelessly cash in on a summer blockbuster of a similar title. I should review more of their films. They’re so easy to rip to shreds with a near worrying level of enjoyment. What isn’t easy to rip to shreds though is Jon Favreau’s Cowboys & Aliens because it’s actually pretty damn good despite the low rent title. Click the link for my review folks!
Cowboys & Aliens is pretty much what the title says it is. What it isn’t is a dumb pointless exercise in special effects and flat characters. It’s story revolves around a man with no name… for about 20 minutes… turns out he’s called Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig). He wakes up in the desert with every screenwriter’s favourite friend, amnesia, and a fair amount of blood coming from his stomach. Oh and he has some weird cuff thing on his wrist that glows. Normal Western stuff so far. After dispatching of some random enemies he makes his way to the nearest town. After getting a little too involved in the towns affairs he is about to be carted off to jail when, wouldn’t you know it, aliens attack in a bunch of spaceships. Turns out that cuff thing on Jake’s arm can shoot these alien ships down and he gets roped in to helping the town recover their lost ones from these flying demons and hopefully kick some extraterrestrial arse at the same time.
What makes this film work in spite of the comic book style storyline is that it takes it’s storytelling seriously. The setting is spot on, the characters all have their own arcs and reasons for going on this journey and the two male leads of Jake and the towns local ruthless man of wealth Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford, awesome character name by the way) both manage to be compelling leads, even if their motives are pretty off the shelf. Jake wants to remember what happened to him and the woman that haunts his dreams, Woodrow wants to get his useless son Percy (Paul Dano) back whilst along the way learning from his failings as a father. Very little to actually do with aliens you see. It’s character that leads this story and the aliens are merely the obstacle that they’ll need to overcome/shoot at the films finale. In fact you only see 2 aliens fully before the films final act. It’s law-men on the trail of some rustlers then. Except the rustlers are 9 foot tall and are technologically way in advance of them.
Whilst the film is full of special effects it never really dwells on them too much. There’s not really any big slow-mo explosions whist Daniel Craig does a somersault over a missile in bullet time with lasers shaving his stubble. Most of the action is quite grounded actually with a fair few sequences being near direct references to classic Westerns of the 30s and more modern action adventures such as Indiana Jones. There’s actually a few shots involving Harrison that are clearly Indy references, such as his initial reveal shot. Pretty sure thee was a Wilhelm scream in there somewhere too. Like the recent John Carter film one thing Cowboys & Aliens does well is keep it’s external locations looking real actually being real. I do like it when directors don’t just resort to digitally painting scenery in because the studio lot is a lot more comfortable to shoot in.
To some I can imagine the films pace maybe being a bit too slow. It really does take it’s time gradually building up to the full on encounter with the aliens themselves. People who find the pace slow are probably the same people that think Independence Day is the OMG Gr8tist aliun movie EVAR!!1!. Weird, spell-check didn’t query “Gr8tist”… Anyway, Independence Day is a dumb summer flick and that’s about it. This film has character and setting so nailed down that it allows tension to breed in it’s gradual pacing. There is a plot point later in the film which, even I’ll admit, was a bit of a stretch. Not that it was entirely out of place within the films genre, it just felt out of place in the films tone.
What the film feels like in the end is a wild west tale where some bad guys from another world have come along and decided to wreck some havoc. It’s a wonder that it works and it shows just how skilled Jon Favreau has become as a director over the years. Almost excuses him for the tepid Iron Man 2.
There’s really not a massive amount to say about this film. It does what it does well. Barring one piece of the plot it’s largely smartly written and constructed. It looks exactly like the $163million budget was put up on the screen. Not a single member of the cast phones in their performance. Even Olivia Wilde manages to be decent which is rare for the average female action film love interest these days. Overall it’s a solid action adventure that manages to stay on the right side of being a Western considering it’s premise. I’ve been told I should have ratings so… erm… B/5