Cowboys & Aliens (2011)

Cowboys & Aliens (2011)Starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell

Directed by Jon Favreau

I’m a huge fan of Jon Favreau – I loved his earlier movies including both Elf and Zathura, and while I wasn’t a huge fan of the sequel, there’s no doubt that the original Iron Man was exactly the shot in the arm that the comic adaptation sub-genre needed back in 2008. His latest, Cowboys & Aliens, has been one of my most anticipated films of this year, and while there is a lot to like about the flick, sadly it comes up a bit short in the end, much like last year’s Iron Man 2.

Cowboys & Aliens starts off a bit feeling like The Bourne Identity meets Army of Darkness – we’re immediately introduced to a mysterious man (Daniel Craig) as he awakens in the middle of the desert with his memory wiped clean. All he has to try and put the pieces together is a strange metallic cuff on his wrist, a faded picture of a beautiful woman and a gaping wound in his side. He manages to make his way to the small town of Absolution, where he finds only a few friendly faces, a lot of trouble and some answers about just what kind of man he used to be.

Favreau uses this time in Absolution (before the alien mayhem begins) to introduce us to some of the key players in the film – the stodgy cattle baron Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford) and his impetuous son Percy (Dano), level-headed Sheriff Taggart (Carradine), town doctor and pacifist Doc (Rockwell), the ass-kicking Ella Swenson (Wilde), and warm-hearted Preacher Meacham (Brown). Once we get our characters in Cowboys & Aliens established, it doesn’t take long for the aliens to swoop in and cause a lot of chaos and devastation in the small settlement, and by the end of the film we see enemies becoming friends (lawmen, outlaws and Indians, respectively) in order to take on the invaders and save their planet from annihilation.

Unfortunately, what should have been an amazing showdown between humans and aliens ended up feeling a bit underwhelming to me.

Clearly, Favreau respects the ‘old-school’ storytelling approach of Cowboys & Aliens producer Steven Spielberg; however, he never quite nails delivering either a solid western or a solid sci-fi epic in this film – we get a taste of both, but the film just never gets to the level of spectacle you’d be hoping for. There’s really no dramatic tension in the film at all, everyone seems miscast (beyond the always badass Craig) and the third act feels incredibly rushed and formulaic at best. Perhaps Cowboys & Aliens would have had better results in the hands of someone like Clint Eastwood or James Mangold at the helm.

Is Cowboys & Aliens a terrible movie? Not at all. It’s just very average. You can’t help but hope for something better than this, especially knowing that Favreau is capable of more as a director.

There are a lot of issues with the pacing and the tone (it’s like they wanted some comedic elements to the story, but nothing is actually funny), but there is still a lot to appreciate. The cinematography work by Matthew Libatique is breathtaking to behold, and the mix of both CG and practical effects makes the aliens in Cowboys & Aliens far more intimidating than anything we saw in Super 8 (and don’t worry, Favreau doesn’t tease you with only glimpses of the aliens either – they get very up close and personal with the cast throughout the film).

The bottom line? Favreau had the opportunity to do something remarkable with Cowboys & Aliens but instead ended up making a movie that feels completely underwhelming once the credits start rolling. While not a terrible experience, it’s one that you should go into with reasonable expectations so that you don’t end up feeling let down once you see it.

2 1/2 out of 5

Discuss Cowboys & Aliens in the comments section below!

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  • euanflex

    I have been a huge fan of good movies so I could have a regular watch over some of the better script movies especially thriller,science fiction and horror, therefore I was just wondering to watching this movie specially the character of Daniel Craig.
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  • kiddcapone

    I’m off work every other Friday, so I always pick an early bird movie to go check out. This week there was NOTHING I was interested in watching so I said what the hell and picked Cowboys & Aliens by default. I didn’t care for the trailers and I fully expected it to suck ass. Truth be told, I kind of liked it.

    It wasn’t nearly as lame as I predicted. I thought it would be a sugarcoated kid friendly movie. Well, it wasn’t. There was carnage, death, mean-spirited aliens. Harrison Ford played a dick of a character. I really enjoyed it. Yeah yeah yeah, there’s a lot of problems with the flick. The pacing was off, the final battle was lackluster, and when Thirteen died and came back to life I was pissed at the copout return, but still…I was never bored and entertained from start to finish.

    I’d give Cowboys & Aliens a solid 3.5/5. I know this won’t be the popular opinion, but since when did I ever give a shit what other people thought? I go to movies to be entertained and this movie did the trick. A masterpiece? Hell no, but definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of alien attack flicks…

    • Masked Slasher

      ^ I think this is a really fair assessment.

      I had a lot of fun with it, despite the flaws. Loved Harrison Ford and the supporting cast was great. Also, the aliens kind of creeped me out when their little hands came out of their chests … and I don’t get that feeling too often.

      I’ll be adding this to the collection once it hits Blu-ray.

      • Uncle Creepy

        Yeah, I’m with you guys. Hell, I think I even liked it better than Captain America.

  • LSD Zombie

    I’d like to get excited for Attack the Block, but the trailer made it look like shit. Plus the aliens are furry and lame looking. And it’s not playing near me.

    • Vanvance1

      Actually it was really good in a British Tremors/Critters kind of way.

      I’m sure it’s better than most any mainstream Hollywood Summer movie.

  • Sirand

    What a total waste of talent.

    This movie should have been a rip-roaring wild ride but decided to take itself super-seriously with tons of draggy half-baked character arcs. Olivia Wilde’s character was one of the worst “girl power” additions to a movie in years and there’s a twist 2/3rds through the movie that had everyone in the theater screaming “BULLSHIT!”

    And is it me or is this movie essentially a remake of Krull?

    All in all, poorly-written Hollywood summer movie B.S. Skip this and watch Attack the Block, which REALLY delivers on the alien carnage.

    • Rottenjesus

      At least KRULL had The Glaive. What did C&A have? James Bond running around with a rejected Iron Man gadget on his wrist.

      This could’ve been something amazing but like you said it’s the same old Hollywood B.S. I’ll second the ATTACK THE BLOCK love. Saw it in a sneak preview a few months back and loved the shit out of it.

  • Masked Slasher

    Hoping I feel differently about this one … been really looking forward to it.

  • Terminal

    Another lukewarm review. I would have loved a definitive word on this movie from you.