I will admit that when I first heard that Jon Favreau was making a film called Cowboys and Aliens I laughed. Not in the “OMG that sounds so stupid” sense. You know – the one produced by viewing something akin to the trailer for Battleship, a film based on the board-game. But rather in the – “Wow – I like much of his work and I bet an over-the-top tongue-in-cheek comedy about western characters battling aliens could be really amusing” way.
As it turns out, Cowboys and Aliens is not a comedy. It’s basically a played as straight Western about a man who has lost his memory but not his ass-kicking skills making sense of his universe. It’s just that his particular universe includes aliens, who have a nasty habit of blowing things up and kidnapping locals for experimentation. But most importantly it’s a very solid (if non-standard) example of the genre. Filled with good performances and action sequences that build a proper sense of true peril, it’s a film worth seeing that managed to effectively hold my interest all the way through.
The film opens with Jake (Daniel Craig) coming to with a nasty abdominal wound and not much else in the way of memories or belongings. He does however have a significantly sized (read as “manly”) bracelet on one wrist. Mistaken for an escaped prisoner, some less than savory types make the mistake of trying to bring him in for a reward. A few bloody moments later, Jake is three horses richer and considerably better armed. He makes his way to a nearby small town where he gets some help with his wounds from a preacher.
In addition to adding moral gravitas to the inevitable group outing, the gun-toting priest also delivers the obligatory, “I’ve seen good men do bad things and bad men do good things” speech that tells us Jake may well be a man who needs to seek redemption over the course of the film. The plot thickens as Jake’s identity comes to light and the town’s ruthless resident rich guy (Harrison Ford) comes into town with a head of steam about something I won’t disclose. Before you can say, “Hey is this a Predator knockoff?” the town’s under attack form alien spacecraft that seems to be lassoing everyone in sight. Craig’s mysterious armband goes all Witchblade and shoots one of the ships out of the sky. That earns him some respect and a place on the posse formed by the remaining townsfolk to hunt for their loved ones.
The remainder of the film gets into the plot elements not given away directly by the trailer as the rag-tag crew go on their seemingly doomed to fail rescue mission. There are some twists and turns and rarely a dull minute. There are a lot of strong performers in this cast that elevate what could easily seem like a rather silly bunch of goings on into a rather solid film. I wouldn’t say Cowboys and Aliens takes either the Western or the alien abduction plot to new unseen before heights, but it delivers a good fun summer film that felt satisfying throughout (and not just because Daniel Craig is so dreamy). Definitely worth a look this weekend if you’re seeking some escapist fare to go along with your air conditioning.