Cowboys & Aliens
Cowboys & Aliens 2011
Now that I’ve finished watching every comic book movie of 2016, my latest quest is to finish watching every major comic book movie ever made. And while this may have been a large task a few years ago, depending on what metric you look at, I only have six movies left that have had a significant box office take and have more than a few thousand user ratings on IMDB. This movie, the Losers, Red, Red 2, Blue is the Warmest Color, and Push. So my goal is to finish off these last few films during the rest of January and all I’ll have left is the obscure and new releases left to cover. Coming back to today’s film, I pretty much skipped over this film when it was released in theaters. It wasn’t on my radar at all, and afterwards it pretty much fell off the face of the internet. It’s an odd mix of genres, a sci-fi western works better when there’s western elements in a sci-fi setting rather than vice versa. Though I suppose I was a fan of Brisco County Jr. But this film did not work for me or my wife whatsoever. It just never felt quite right and we couldn’t get past the incredulity of cowboys fighting highly advanced aliens.
On top of everything else, they toss in the amnesiac hero with a past. And while Daniel Craig is absolutely the best part of this film, hands down, his memory loss became a hindrance after a while. It exists to accomplish two different things. One is to make him the audience surrogate, since he doesn’t know anything about his past, he has to re-learn everything. The second is to make him more sympathetic since the more we learn about his past, the worse it makes him look as a character, until it finally comes back around again. But we find out that he’s a wanted man, he has a gang of outlaws that he betrayed. But on the plus side, he ultimately did it all for love, so that makes everything ok in the end. And it also makes it ok for him to fall for a new love that’s been following him around all movie because she’s played by Olivia Wilde and his old love is dead.
Moving onto the complete tonal dissonance that’s created by having full-on futuristic aliens attacking an old west town. The aliens have highly maneuverable flying ships and highly destructive weapons that can fire repeatedly without needing to reload, and have advanced targeting. And the cowboys have one guy that managed to steal one of the aliens’ arm cannons, plus weapons that require multiple shots to kill one of the aliens. But the aliens don’t much like the light so that somehow puts them on even ground. Despite the fact that their aversion to sunlight never seems to come into play during the entire course of the movie, it’s merely spoken as a line of exposition. The design of the aliens themselves is decent, but nothing extraordinary. The use of a secondary pair of hands that are used for more delicate manipulation is interesting, but also odd considering that in order to use them makes them vulnerable.
There are a handful of themes throughout the film, but it also feels like they are presented in a dissonnant way. Harrison Ford’s character has a braggart and blowhard son played by Paul Dano. He makes a fool of himself by shooting off his gun everywhere before getting his ass handed to him by Craig without any effort. In retaliation, he fires a random shot that hits the deputy sheriff in the arm and gets him put in jail before the aliens eventually capture him. Ford also has a Native American… employee? It’s unclear exactly what his role is aside from looking after Dano, but it becomes a moment where he is a surrogate son to Ford, yet Ford’s racism never allows him to see it until it’s too late. There’s also the meek Doc slash bartender who eventually learns how to shoot and saves the day, and the young kid who is too scared to do anything to save himself until he finally becomes a man and kills the enemy alien. And to cap it all off, it ends with a big enemies-come-together-to-fight-a-common-foe battle at the space ship. They all feel like typical Western character arcs and they’re handled in a very standard way without much hoopla.
There are a handful of fun moments throughout the movie. Once again, Craig is a force of nature and the scenes where he has to leap into action are handled excellently. He also gets a fair bit of humor in when he runs into his old gang and busts the teeth of one of the lead henchmen, and yet this doesn’t cause him to waver in his loyalty. Ford’s performance is passable, he somehow manages to have lines that seem completely over the top, like when he’s telling the tale of when he had to kill a man when he was just a young boy, but on a scale of 1 to 10, his energy never goes above a four. As for the rest of the cast, Wilde does have a nice ethereal look to her that fits her eventual otherworldly reveal but she’s otherwise bland. The same goes for Sam Rockwell’s Doc. It was nice to see Clancy Brown in a smaller role as the priest as he is always great. It just overall felt like a shame that so many creative minds worked on this project and came up with something that didn’t work on so many levels. From the cast to Jon Favreau as the director, even Steven Speilburg as executive producer. Though the writers were much more hit and miss considering they were behind projects like Van Helsing, Amazing Spider-Man 2, but also the new Star Trek movies and Mission Impossible 3. It’s just such a mixed bag that never quite worked for me. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.