There have been great Westerns, and there have been great alien invasion movies. Unfortunately, Cowboys & Aliens, which mashes the two into what should’ve been a delicious pop culture meta-feast, is neither on both counts.
The film, based on the epic graphic novel created by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, starts off well with some familiar opening imagery for the genre, sweeping across the plains and revealing a handsome dude (Daniel Craig) just awakening from unconsciousness. Wouldn’t you know it, he doesn’t know who or where he is — or where the strange electronic device on his wrist came from. It’ll be dark sooner rather than later, though — better head for the nearest town.
It isn’t long before our hero has caused trouble in the town of Absolution and raised the ire of a cranky land baron (Harrison Ford), but these little conflicts are soon rendered null and void with the sudden appearance of ALIEN SPACESHIPS that start blasting the holy bejeezus out of every damn thing in sight and snatching up poor puny humans as only alien spaceships can. These intergalactic nasties are after gold, and word that there’s lots of the stuff to be found out West must’ve somehow reached the far reaches of the galaxy.
And… actually, that’s about it. You then get a movie that has a bunch of cowboys on horseback going after aliens in spaceships. Which, again, should’ve been great… but it’s not. In fact, it’s pretty dull, even with a considerable amount of eye candy going on, not the least of which is Olivia Wilde as a hottie cowgirl.
Jon Favreau is a good director, whether he’s encouraging Vince Vaughn to be as unbearably obnoxious as possible (Made) or guiding Robert Downey Jr. down the path of righteousness (both Iron Man films). With Cowboys & Aliens, Favreau is still a capable enough storyteller, but the movie is really missing the rambunctious, anarchic spirit of his previous films. You get the impression that he was feeling the pressure of having both Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard breathing down his neck as the producers on this thing, and the result is a piece of work that’s frustratingly inert. There’s nothing new here, as either a Western or a sci-fi film, and it goes absolutely nowhere — it feels like it’s just kind of galloping in place the whole time.
However, Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford make Cowboys & Aliens a lot less rougher road than it could’ve been. Having James Bond and Indiana Jones together in the same movie isn’t just a gimmick — these two are actually pretty great together, with Craig allowed to play a more sinister kind of badass than 007 and Ford looking like he’s actually having a good time making a movie (he’s looked downright miserable in everything he’s been in since The Fugitive until now). There’s not much to their characters (mysterious stranger and gruff old fogey), but there’s everything to their star power, and they single-handedly almost make Cowboys & Aliens seem like the “event” movie it should’ve been.
What a disappointment! This should’ve been one of the greats, especially considering the talent involved. Alas, Cowboys & Aliens is yet another sign that Hollywood might want to consider hanging its hat on this whole comic-book movie business.