Cowboys & Aliens

28 Aug

Title: Cowboys & Aliens
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Jon Favreau
Writers: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, based on a screen story by Mr. Fergus, Mr. Ostby and Steve Oedekerk, based on the graphic novel by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg
Starring: 
Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, Clancy Brown, Keith Carradine, Noah Ringer, Adam Beach, Abigail Spencer, Ana de la Reguera, Walton Goggins
MPAA Rating: 
PG-13, intense sequences of western and sci-fi action and violence, some partial nudity and a brief crude reference
Runtime: 
118 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
6.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 
45%

You can go right ahead and write down Cowboys & Aliens as one of the biggest disappointments of the 2011 movie year. To be perfectly honest it wasn’t a bad film, I liked parts of it a fair bit, but the truth is that I was majorly excited for this film, I thought it would be one of the funnest two hours spent in the theater, and I had been thinking that for a while now, so to finally get to see it and get this was a huge let down. I mean, look at it on paper and it’s just a geek dream-team made in heaven. You have a self-explanatory title that promises to marry the western and sci-fi genres in one insanely nifty adventure. You have Jon Favreau, he who directed the first two Iron Man films, calling the shots. You have a script by the two guys who wrote the latest Star Trek, the guy who spearheaded Lost, and another two-guy team that were the ones that did the screenplay for the first, and best, Iron Man film and the Oscar-nominated one of the masterpiece that was Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men. And then you have all of that on-screen talent as well: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Walton Goggins… this seemed too good to be true, and ultimately, it was.

Seriously, I was ridiculously excited about this film, the whole concept, the whole team assembled to make it, that awesome first trailer. And then we get this, a truly uneven film that while certainly not all bad, certainly didn’t live up to its potential. I don’t really know what it was, maybe it was the fact that even though all five screenwriters are pretty genius, they were still five different people collaborating on a single project (and regular readers may be aware of how much I dislike films with that many writers), maybe it was the fact that Mr. Favreau, no matter how wicked cool he is, apparently wasn’t ready to really handle the tonality changes that were such a big part of this movie and was brought down by his own ambition. I don’t know, really, all I know is that Cowboys & Aliens wasn’t the geek dream I was looking forward to watching multiple times on the theater and then getting my hands on the blu-ray the minute it was released.

The whole thing just lacked the incredible pacing that would be really necessary to accomplish a successful mesh of these two disparate genres, because the way it was done, Cowboys & Aliens was just a mash-up of two genres, but not a very smart one, because for all of its ambitions of envelope-pushing concepts, it was still too tied down to the formula of today’s blockbusters, which in turned meant that it could really give us not much of a cool western and not much of a cool sci-fi, either. And again, I’m pained to say that this really falls mostly on Mr. Favreau, I mean, sure, the script probably could have been better considering the talent assembled to pen it, but as a director it was his job to really achieve a neat balance of these two genres, and for the vast majority of this film it seemed as though he was just a fanboy interested in filming some guys with pistols on horses next to a CGI-created spaceship and having things blow up. And, don’t get me wrong, that’s all good and fun, but it’s really not much else, and it’s only good and fun for a limited amount of time.

The acting I thought pretty awesome, though, and it’s what made me like Cowboys & Aliens to whatever level I ultimately did. I mean, Mr. Craig and Mr. Ford were pretty much meant to play their roles, even though they don’t bring much other than their natural predisposition to play them to the film, and the supporting cast features Sam Rockwell, Keith Carradine, Paul Dano and Walton Goggins, who are all outstanding actors who always rock supporting roles and that, if you get to think about it, are the sort of actors who would actually be incredible in actual westerns if anyone actually still made those films today. And, to be honest, as much a sci-fi geek as I may be, and as much as I loved the idea of marrying these two when I first heard of it, I now fully believe that Cowboys & Aliens would have been a much better film without the alien part of the title, and instead as a straight-up western with all of the same players involved.

I won’t really get into the plot at all, if you’ve seen the trailers you actually get all you need to know from them no matter how mysterious they’re made out to play as. If you see this film you may have your fair bit of fun, it warrants it to be honest, but you’ll also feel as though you should have gotten something better, and not just an exercise by Mr. Favreau with a humongous budget in taking his time to get to a predictable cowboys vs. aliens climax, that once it arrives will be pretty well-made and loud, but will offer essentially no thrills. Maybe I would have like this film a bit better had I seen it on a different day, but today was also the day I saw the outstanding Attack the Block, which was a tremendously well-done alien movie with a low budget but that succeeded in all the places this one failed because it knew how to execute its formula. Perhaps if this one would have been smart enough to just stick to the western bits, it would have fared the same way, instead it’s just a so-so movie when it should have been a pretty awesome one.

Grade: B-

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