I repeat this one more time: the title of Cowboys & Aliens is not supposed to be comedic. Now if they make a sequel called Cowboys & Zombies that’ll be a different story. Instead the aliens are just another force in the Old West. They’re like a gang that will destroy a small town, but they have more impressive weaponary.
Director Jon Faverau (Iron Man) films the movie like a traditional western. The shots are wide and attractive showing all of the rich landscape. The saloons are dim and the pistols are always within reach. It’s a Hollywood western meaning that it’s not as grimy and that works for and against the movie.
On the pluses, a Hollywood western serves as a really good juxtaposition to a Hollywood sci-fi film. When the good guys ride away on horses trying to get away from spaceships, it’s exciting and fun. On the downside, there isn’t any moral issues. The bad cowboys can be good cowboys and all of the “whores” end up being wives. This provides for some missed opportunities, but the fun is constant throughout.
Daniel Craig is so badass as Jake Lonergan, a man with no memory and a weird metal device on his wrist. They bring back the coolness of fistfights and every time Craig knocks a guy out it makes you giddy for a new Bond film. The other big highlight is seeing Harrison Ford actually try in a performance for the first time since 1997’s Air Force One.
Those are the two characters with the fullest written characters. The rest of the cast brings credibility to smaller roles. The heavyweights include Paul Dano, Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, Keith Carradine, Walton Goggins, and Abigail Spencer.
The pacing is quick and satisfying. There are small mysteries that have easy answers, but still remain worthwhile. The strength of the film is how it treats the story. At this point alien invasions and amnesia plotlines are overdone, but placing them in a time when the characters don’t know the words “alien” or “amnesia” they are fresher.
This could have been great. A gritty western interrupted by a different genre. Inventiveness at every turn. Yet, it’s a confusing combination of just being “good.” It will be enjoyed, forgotten, remembered, enjoyed, and replaced. It remains one of the best action films of the year, but won’t last beyond that.