Cowboys & Aliens – Seen It Review

Cowboys & Aliens

Directed by: Jon Favreau
Cast: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano
Running Time: 1 hr 48 mins
Rating: PG-13
Release Date: July 29, 2011

This is a “Seen It” review. You’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. That means all plot points and spoilers are fair game and will be discussed. The only reason to read this review is if you have already watched the film, or never plan on seeing it, but for some reason, you’d like to know what TSR thought about it. We walk you through the key moments in the film, adding in our thoughts along the way. You’ve been warned.

PLOT: A gunslinger named Jake (Craig) and a tyrant named Dolarhyde (Ford) have to settle their differences in Arizona, 1873, as aliens have come to town looking to destroy the place.

Movie:  With a cold open, Jake wakes up and fights off three cowboys, and then heads into the nearest town.
Thoughts by TSR: I really like this opening shot. Staring into a wide western landscape for a good ten seconds before a bruised Daniel Craig pops into frame, after the camera pans over a bit. Its a hypnotic shot that demands tranquility. Like a good Western, if you ask me. Craig’s random beat down on a trio of shady cowboys is cool for a few seconds, until you realize how cheaply set up it was. The font for the opening credits is really, really boring. A blockbuster with Times New Roman? Not a good sign.

Movie: Jake roughs up rambunctious Percy, and then Dolarhyde (Ford) pops in as a cowboy with an attitude.
Thoughts by TSR: Paul Dano plays another little sh*t (previous one being in There Will Be Blood), but this one is more directly annoying. So of course, big bad Jake knees him in the groin, and drops him to the ground with robotic-like reflexes. At least this scene had me wondering as to what kind of effect Jake would have on the town – a strange outsider who could protect or destroy a town? Would this be like High Plains Drifter? I was only starting to hope. Oh, and Harrison Ford’s entrance is dull. He’s mean and crusty. I get it. In fact, I got that about ten years ago.

Movie: Dolarhyde rides into town. Aliens invade the town and kidnap a bunch of people.
Thoughts by TSR: Not only does Dolarhyde have a pretty weak character introduction, but so does Olivia Wilde’s character, Ella. Considering that’s undermining the presence of Han Solo and a human being ranked #1 on Maxim’s top 100, that’s not a very good sign for the excitement of Cowboys and Aliens. These worries slightly change when the aliens show up, which is like mixing aggressive lassoing with an amount of explosions that would get Michael Bay’s two thumbs up. When Craig finally uses his massive wristband, it’s a relief. I was hoping there’d be much more usage of it. But at least Percy is out of the picture.

Movie: The cowboys come across a flipped over ship, and encounter an alien.
Thoughts by TSR: The upside down ship, carried from hundreds of miles away, is a cool visual. The rest of these scene lacks any of that same intrigue. Doc, (Rockwell) is of course learning how to shoot a gun. The exchange between Craig and Wilde is dull and lacking in any chemistry, even if Craig isn’t wearing a shirt. When we get the first look at the aliens in this movie, it’s exciting, albeit a bit typical. Typical in the way that this seems to echo exec-producer Spielberg’s previous Super 8 monster and also any scene where kids are in danger from his many blockbusters. The introduction of the alien’s inner limb is truly surprising, although the alien’s form is not.

Movie: Jake and the other cowboys encounter his old robbery buddies. A man makes a mistake of repeatedly calling Ella a “whore,” and Jake blows him away with his alien wristband.
Thoughts by TSR: Cowboys & Aliens has some gross tendencies to feel like a boring Western. This scene is one of its first strong indicators that the hit-and-miss dialogue in the town during the first act weren’t some type of fluke. This movie is going to be relatively boring, and constructed of familiar elements. When Jake runs into his former robbing buddies, this is certainly one of them. It’s a little salt in the cliche wound when Jake kills the new leader of the gang for calling Ella a whore, saying something like, “I told you not to call her that.” And again, a “badass” moment from Craig that is made to be very expected by the script.

Movie: Aliens ride back into the landscape and pick up more people. Jake hops on board of an alien ship that has lassoed up Ella and takes it down.
Thoughts by TSR: This scene feels like the first alien invasion, but its on foot (or hooves, really). The action is pretty straightforward and ultimately thrill-less. Even when Craig is trying to hijack an alien spaceship to save Ella, there isn’t much tension. There are plenty of special effects and loud explosions, but those components alone do not make a riveting scene. I must admit, myself and others were certainly caught off guard when the alien popped out of the water and smacked Ella to her death.

Movie: A group of Indians pick up the cowboys, and Ella’s true form is revealed when she comes back to life in her human form.
Thoughts by TSR: Not only does Cowboys & Aliens have a ragtag group of robbers, but it also has Indians (I am using the politically incorrect term for the sake of the genre). This moment offers Dolarhyde a couple shots at being cranky and offensive, neither of which character components make for an amusing comedic presence. (Even Eastwood was better at being a cranky cowboy … when he was telling people to stay off his lawn.) And of course Olivia Wilde can’t die in a movie, so when she comes back to life as some alien-spirit-form-thing, it’s expected. Her explanation should be pretty obvious, and answers the questions we don’t care about concerning the mystery as to why Ella would be so desperately interested in Jake and his wristband.

Movie: After Jake recruits his old train robbing cronies, they begin an attack on the ship. All hell breaks loose, and Nat dies.
Thoughts by TSR: The action heats up when the cowboys mosey on over to the giant alien space station and start blowin’ stuff up. The fighting between the title opponents is fast and brutal, making for entertaining chaos. Its hard to keep track of what’s going on, but the amount of violence and amount of odds against the revolver-shooter’s winning is pretty clear. When Nat dies, the cliches come flooding back in.

Movie: Jake blasts away a bunch of aliens, and Ella kisses him to steal his magic wristband.
Thoughts by TSR: As silly and simple as it may be, the moment in which Jake blasts away a squadron of swarming aliens is probably the most exciting segment of the whole movie. It’s a good mix of the gunslinging quality of cowboys with the spookiness of aliens. It also gives the movie some great action, and it’s loud and explosive, just like director Favreau’s action scenes like to be. The defense of “silly” is then squandered by Ella’s taking of the wristband, which is indeed silly and could have happened earlier. Why didn’t she tell anyone that you can lose the wristband by simply not thinking? Also, that’s a boring way to get an alien instrument off your body. I’m not buying it.

Movie: Ella blows up the ship, and Jake is a freed man.
Thoughts by TSR: As mentioned before, Favreau knows how to blow up things, and the big and bright destruction of the alien spaceship might be the most beautiful visual in the entire movie. Cowboys & Aliens ends like a typical, forgettable Western. Hopefully a sequel is not on its way. The concept of the mash-up has seen better days.

OVERALL

Of course, Cowboys & Aliens has its simple requirements, (which some viewers might find to be the only requirements), for which director Favreau can mostly follow through with – loud action scenes with big explosions. Regardless of whether the actual combat is intriguing to watch, or if it just seems like more chaotic Hollywood playtime a la any Transformers fight scene, Favreau’s action scenes are bright with lots of stuff blowing up, and the sound design is at top notch and volume. Even the slamming of someone’s fist to another’s face sounds like a giant firecracker. Thankfully, Favreau’s action scenes are more coherent than other movies of similar size (and budget) to Cowboys & Aliens but they still lack a certain necessary tension here.

The aliens have potential to be intimidating creatures and we root for their destruction. However, this isn’t good for enjoying our protagonists, whose genre generic handling eventually sucks away the potential fun of its wild components. When Sam Rockwell’s Doc character is given a couple of lines of comic relief, they aren’t just welcome, but extremely overdue. Cowboys & Aliens becomes so inundated with its straight faced macho attributes and typical cowboy plot elements (train robbers, Indians) that it feels like Rockwell would be more exciting to watch than Harrison Ford.

This movie is a sludgy mix of two action genres that don’t compliment each other’s flavor efficiently, especially when both flavors are so strong. Among other failed food combos, this is why people don’t mix bleu cheese and espresso.

FINAL SCORE: 4/10

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