Cowboys & Aliens — a play on, and definitely playing with, “Cowboys and Indians” — is perhaps the most self-explanatory title since Snakes on a Plane. Before you even set foot in the theater, you know what you’re in for: cowboys and aliens. Anyone going in with loftier expectations will, no doubt, be disappointed. This isn’t Shakespeare, folks. It’s the bastard child of a classic Western and a classic alien invasion film, with all the subtle (and not-so subtle) genre nods therein. Taciturn hero? Check. Purty lady? Check. Scuffle with a band of criminals and/or Indian tribe? Check. Shit blowing up? Definite check.
But that’s all stuff someone can glean from the trailer and commercials alone. The fun of actually seeing Jon Favreau‘s slick, bombastic Cowboys & Aliens is joining a stellar cast and a crisp script on a fun, adventure-laden, 118-minute ride. Favreau’s Frankenstein’s monster of a film doesn’t seek to reinvent the wheel — instead, it drives it hard across the landscape, until it’s damn near worn out!
Daniel Craig stars as amnesiac Jake Lonergan, who wakes up in dry, mountainous territory with a clunky piece of man jewelry. Without saying anything for at least the film’s first five minutes, Craig manages to speak volumes about his troubled character. And while the people Jake subsequently meets may not be familiar to him, geeks the world over will have no such issues! Aside from veteran favorite and genre badass extraordinaire Harrison Ford, playing gruff ex-colonel Woodrow Dolorhyde, there’s Clancy Brown (Highlander, Earth 2), Keith Carradine (Dexter, Deadwood), Sam Rockwell (Moon, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), Walton Goggins (The Shield, Justified), Adam Beach (Smoke Signals, Law & Order: SVU) and Tron: Legacy‘s Olivia Wilde… who plays the luminous, mysterious Ella. (Seriously, the cameras seem to deliberately focus on her face and form, making her the one shining thing in a dustbowl.) Equally luminous is Abigail Spencer (ex-Becca, All My Children) whose Alice holds a key to Jake’s past. This is an “Oh, I know that guy!” line-up, all of whom seem to have an absolute blast in the film! As a result, viewers can’t help but have a good time as well.
For all its star power, the story is straightforward: A small mining community is attacked by big, hulking, monsters in space ships who snatch up people at random. Unlikely allies must band together to save their loved ones and battle the threat. Bright fiery explosions and dozens of jump moments populate the tale, along with gratuitous cinematic fawning over Craig’s rough-hewn torso and Wilde’s enigmatic beauty.
It may not be high art, but Cowboys & Aliens ropes in its victims with great visuals, a root-worthy tale of man vs. technology, enough touching moments to give it heart… and a damn cute dog! What more can a person ask for… except a sequel?