Strangely though, this particular unexpected combination actually works well enough to make Cowboys and Aliens a relatively fun summer popcorn movie.
Mixing genres such as science fiction and the classic western is odd enough to make you wonder what weird and inexplicable combinations will turn up next, or will at least pop into your head while thinking about how odd it is. It’s no easy task getting such things to work. Just watch the movie Doomsday. You’ll see a mixing of maybe three or four genres, and you’ll see how it can go horribly horribly wrong. Strangely though, this particular unexpected combination actually works well enough to make Cowboys and Aliens a relatively fun summer popcorn movie.
So this guy wakes up in the desert not knowing who he is or where he came from, and he goes to the nearest town and meets some folks before they all get attacked by…alien spaceships! Turns out these aliens are harvesting gold and taking people from town, so a posse is formed and they vow to go find their missing townfolk and stop these aliens for good. You heard me right about the gold.
Yeah, it’s a pretty outlandish premise. But it’s the uniqueness of its’ premise that gives it extra points for not being a sequel or a rehashed idea, or, despite my enjoyment of the gnere, another superhero movie. Hollywood will always be in desperate need of original ideas, no doubt. The fact that these aliens require gold as much as humans is thin, but somehow wasn’t ridiculous to me. Mostly, I think, because they don’t make any issue of it. They mention it and then never speak of it again. There wasn’t even time to roll my eyes. Hey, who’s to say gold isn’t rare in other places in the universe, too?
And talk about a great cast. Daniel Craig is the man who doesn’t know his own name, which turns out to be Jake Lonergan, a wanted man. Harrison Ford is Woodrow Dolarhyde, a gruff, old-school ranch owner who’s looking to get his son back from these aliens. Paul Dano is Dolarhyde’s cocky, reckless son. Sam Rockwell is the bar owner, Doc. Olivia Wilde is ridiculously hot. Just sayin’. She plays Ella Swenson who’s not from around these parts. Add to the list Clancy Brown, Adam Beach, Abaigail Spencer, Chris Browning, and the always awesome Keith Carradine as the sheriff, and you get one major ensemble cast of “Holy crap, EVERYBODY is in this!” And they all pull their weight, and some.
John Favreau deftly directs this and manages to give the actors actual stuff to do and the script gives us some story to them so we care about them, too. There’s plenty of classic western here with doses of sci-fi action. Sometimes I almost wanted to see a straight forward western because so many of the cast seemed so tailored to the genre. But the aliens are kinda cool and have a little surprise hidden in their chests which are kinda freaky. The CG effects are good and blend well, and they don’t overdo them. The actors are doing much more than just reacting to green screens. Favreau likes to incorporate some practical effects and they’re all seamless.
Craig and Ford handle their screen time well. I never got the impression one would over-shadow the other. I guess it’s hard to imagine Harrison Ford being second fiddle to Daniel Craig, and there is even a brief shot where such a thought popped in my head – but only for a moment, and it was a funny one.
This was a fun blend of two disparate genres. Break out the popcorn and rustle up some friends and go see this. Won’t win any awards, but this is likely to entertain you for about two hours. There are plenty of worse ways to spend that time in a movie theater this summer, for sure. Getting points just for being original, Cowboys and Aliens gets a sturdy three and a half kittenhands from me.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, telling you to make note of the persistent traveling dog that may be indestructible.