When looking at the pedigree of Cowboys and Aliens one can’t help but be impressed with the level of talent and expertise that has been gathered both in front of and behind the camera for such light summer fare. With producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, executive producers such as Steven Spielberg and a cast including legendary star- Harrison Ford, Hollywood leading man- Daniel Craig, and one of the most interesting actresses in the biz– Olivia Wilde, expectations are higher than your average blockbuster.
Couple that with the intriguing premise of mixing two of the most classic and beloved film genres – the Western and Science Fiction – one is both excited and nervous to see if such seemingly incongruous motifs can be blended into a new genre of its own. While the film is sure to please fans looking for a couple hours of action and escapism from the summer heat that has enveloped most of the country the past few weeks, and does deliver on some of its promise, the movie never fully melds the Western and Science fiction elements together in a meaningful way. More as the title suggests these genres exist side by side on the screen but do not elevate each other.
The film is loosely based on a 2006 graphic novel of the same name written by Scott Rosenberg. Almost solely inspired the by graphic novel’s cover illustration, the film charts a completely different story line than the novel, incorporating only minor plot details from the existing narrative. This is perhaps the movie’s greatest weakness. The storyline for the film was developed by a cast of writers more akin to a scripted T.V. series, than a single feature film. The movie credits no fewer than eight writers which perhaps may explain the incongruity that can be seen amongst the film’s acts. However, given the number of writers, and gifted ones at that, it’s perplexing that much of the dialogue is filled with old clichés. The movie’s first half is by far the strongest segment of the film and the visuals are both crisp and authentic. However, as the movie progresses the film seems to be littered with western archetypes – marauding outlaws, band of Indians, etc. – and the storyline devolves as the action picks up.
The movie opens with the introduction of the main character Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) waking up alone in the desert wearing an unusual metal “bracelet” and seemingly confused about both how he got there and who he is. The intrigue continues as he makes his way into a dusty nearby town. While trying to remain inconspicuous he ends up getting wrapped up in some local politics which only serves to alert the town sheriff to his true identify, which at this point still remains a mystery to our main character. Trouble begins to ensue for Lonergan when he is revealed to be a wanted outlaw. Also, arriving on the scene is the gruff cattle baron Mr. Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford)- or call him Colonel if you are looking to make him mad- who demands that the Sheriff release his screw-up son from Jail.
But before these plot threads can play out, the town is attacked by mysterious crescent -shaped space ships which not only destroy much of the town but capture half of the townsfolk for good measure. The visual effects throughout the movie are superb and while the opening battle only provides scant glimpses of the invaders, viewers won’t be disappointed when they come face to face with the aliens in later scenes. The movie’s characters, initially at odds with one another, must come together behind Lonergan when it is revealed that the bracelet shackled to his arm is a powerful weapon capable of bringing down the aliens. As the townsfolk and Lonergan set off to track down the origin of the aliens, they run into trouble several times, but again must turn former foes to their cause in a united front to defeat the invaders.
Despite the scant storyline at times, the performances of the cast and the pace of the movie keep the viewer pleasantly entertained. Ford seems to relish playing the brusque and overbearing cattleman who shows flashes of warmth, and Daniel Craig is perfectly steely-eyed in the role as the reluctant hero. While Olivia Wilde initially seems out of place in the period, her appearance too manicured for the 1800’s, she brings the appropriate subtle mysteriousness that keeps you intrigued about her role in the scheme of things. All in all the movie is sure to delight young audiences and provide a couple hours of escape from reality where we can all wonder what it would be like to ride into the sunset and come face to face with some little green men.