Cowboys & Aliens (Jon Favreau) 2011 Some spoilers

Production Budget: $163 million

Worldwide Gross: $178 million

In Cowboys & Aliens we follow Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) who wakes up in the desert with no memory and a strange alien device on his arm.  Jake gets in early trouble with a local cattle baron named Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) whom he apparently stole money from in the past.  All that is put on the back burner as aliens come and abduct several people in the town including Dolarhyde’s son.  The town must then come together to fight the aliens and get back their family.

Genre mash ups are usually a bad idea.  I mean, look no further than The Wild Wild West.  Or, more preferably, don’t look there at all.  But I think what was giving most people hope on this one was the talent involved.  Here you have geek director Favreau, some writers used by JJ Abrams, and stars like Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig.  To be fair and to cut straight to the chase, Cowboys & Aliens is one of the better attempts at doing a movie like this.  That doesn’t mean though, that I can’t bitch a little bit.

For one, this movie seems to take the subject matter just a tad too seriously.  The title, kind of like Snakes on a Plane, is in a way an advertisement of what the film is.  It’s playful and indicates something played for camp.  Something of a better example of a silly concept is Bubba Ho Tep in which an elderly Elvis fights off a mummy in his nursing home.  Cowboys & Aliens comes off more as like an Independence Day type summer blockbuster.  It is an effects driven action movie with some goofy characters thrown in.  Which doesn’t necessarily mean that is a bad thing, but it does give something of a false impression to people going in.

I also feel as if the “Aliens“ part of the storyline seems like an afterthought.  I was absolutely loving this movie in the beginning when it was almost purely a Western.  Favreau seemed to have the look, feel, and attitude down.  I was loving the characters and the situations they were in.  Then things just started heading downhill as soon as the aliens showed up.  By the third act when they actually had to explain what the aliens are doing and why they are here that it was really losing me.  It is probably the fault of the five writers this movie has that sometimes the script goes off the rails. Now I am going to be talking about the plot so if you don’t want spoilers skip this paragraph.  I won’t be spoiling everything but talking about details so be warned.

I already have heard the instant rebuttals to all this.  “Oh, I’m sorry there were ALIENS in this movie called Cowboys & Aliens.  I’m sorry you didn’t see that coming.“  Or “Really?  You are picking apart the plot of a movie called Cowboys & Aliens?“  This isn’t my cheif complaint, but yes, I am complaining about the plot of Cowboys & Aliens.  The thing is, I can take a silly plot or if a few things that just don’t make sense.  But the third act gets so stupid that it is REALLY hard to ignore: Olivia Wilde’s character and what she does is one big WTF, the answer of why the aliens are on Earth doesn’t really make sense,  and why the aliens are abducting people doesn’t really make sense either.  The thing I find most hilarious is the aliens are beat by basically a group of dudes with spears.  Yeah, I know it is a tad more than that, but come on.  You perfect intergalactic space travel, weapons that can blow the holy hell out of anything, and can make machines impenetrable to conventional weaponry and by the end its like “AHHHH!!! Pointy sticks!  We didn’t figure they would have those! Run away!”  That goes into my chief complaint about the aliens too.  These are creatures that again, have perfected intergalactic travel, but when they come into contact with humans are rabid animals.  For example they completely ditch their super energy cannons and just charge blindly in and maul the humans as if they are some mutant bear on the loose.  See what I mean in that it goes beyond silly into stupid?  Why does the advanced alien race drop their superior guns and try to bite the humans who do have guns?

Okay you can come back to reading the review again.  I’m not going to spoil anymore.  Another problem is with the characters.  Almost all of them are stock two dimensional stereotypes from westerns.  Which, again, is fine when you are doing a kind of comedy mash up like this.  But even so, there has to be some growth during the course of the movie out of their pre defined roles.  That is why for me, the second act drags a bit because you have these characters on a long journey and do nothing to advance characters during that time.  The first act did such a good job of setting things up and establishing everything, it is surprising that in the second act we aren’t really given a reason to care about what happens.  The only person with any kind of growth is Harrison Ford’s character.  Which even that isn’t great, but compared to the nothing everyone else gets, it is a breath of fresh air.

Now that I’ve spent the majority of this review bitching and complaining, it is time for me to give some perspective on the movie as a whole.  The movie is shot well as Favreau is able to capture the look and feel of a good Western.  The acting (even though the characters are not fleshed out) is very good.  Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, and Sam Rockwell all do their best to impart some life into their rather flat characters.  The action is okay up until the end when I feel the final fight is rather confusingly shot and rushed.  A rushed villian climax is almost a staple in Favreau movies now that I mention it.  But I digress.  And I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy this movie overall and found it fun.  On the other hand you have paper thin characters, inconsistent writing from the five writers, downright stupid plotting with the aliens subplot, and some other minor issues.  Basically what this all boils down to is Cowboys & Aliens is a good movie that I think just about everyone can enjoy somewhat, but that the flaws keep it from being a truly great movie.

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2 Responses to “Cowboys & Aliens (Jon Favreau) 2011 Some spoilers”

  1. johnnyfog Says:

    I harbor a soft spot for Wild Wild West. It practically oozes visible slime.

  2. The why the aliens are here is one of the more laughably stupid plot devices in awhile. Up there with stealing our water or coming because we’re really, really tasty. Actually I’d accept that humans are just super delicious before the one the movie uses. Still I had fun watching it. And I got to see James Bond punch the other dude from “Justified” in the face. Even better than watching him try to knife fight Predators…

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