It’s true of life and usually true of summer blockbusters (you know what you did Green Lantern).
In the case of Jon Favreau’s Sci-Fi Western, Cowboys & Aliens, you might guess that expectations were set pretty low.
You would be wrong. I’d say they were moderately high, considering.
Let me remind you that it’s about cowboys and aliens.
It’s too absurd a concept with too good a cast to be anything but entertaining, and on that front it delivered.
Sure it’s not going to be accepting any little golden men, but how could this be anything but awesome?
Plus, just for fun, let’s throw in a half-dozen plot lines, some inferred historical context, and several brief, heart-warming moments…now go!
What makes it work?
In the immortal and oft-repeated words of Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig): “I don’t know.” It just does, and of course, I’ll do my best to explain (sans spoilers).
From the moment Lonergan (still portrayed by Daniel Craig) comes to in the middle of nowhere, without any idea about who he is or why he has a single shackle on his wrist, this movie has all the makings of a Western.
In fact, up until the airborne aliens arrive there’s very little extra-terrestrial going on.
Lonergan quickly proves his mettle as the Western hero we would hope for and (with a newly acquired wardrobe, horse, and dog) wanders on into a nearby town.
Craig leads this movie with the same suave nonchalance that his fans know and love. He gives Lonergan’s amnesia a hint of the tragic, where it could easily be purely comic. His accent may take a few trips across the United States, but his quiet yet commanding presence makes up for it.
Lucky for Lonergan the only person on the planet who could tell him where his bracelet came from, Ella (Olivia Wilde), happens to be residing in the town.
Although her character is a little underdeveloped, I have to say Miss Wilde impressed me. It’s clear from the beginning that she is more than what she seems. Mr. Craig may be on the posters, but this is just as much Ella’s story.
Of course, since the aliens are irredeemably bad we need a more human villain, in this case the embodiment of racism and closed-mindedness who’s just open-hearted enough to change…
Enter Harrison Ford as the former soldier turned wealthiest man in the area (and consequently arrogant and bossy), Woodrow Dolarhyde.
What can I say about Harrison Ford? He plays the gruff, old man beautifully with a charm that cannot be explained. His transformation happens ridiculously fast, but it works, inducing only a few giggles along the way.
While Craig, Ford, and Wilde lead this cast, the filler stories and ensemble who bring them to life give what could have easily been a light fluffy, fun piece, depth.
Now we have our central characters and side stories in place, it’s only a matter of time before those laser-gun slinging villains descend upon the small town and turn their century upside down.
What makes this movie intriguing is the juxtaposition of futuristic technology and the Western frontier.
They have fun with that occasionally, but play it straight for the most part, which makes the contrast less jarring. The humor is fast and rare and never about the presence of alien life.
When the local Native Americans join in to fight the invading forces, there’s a lot of pride swallowed and you can’t help but think that a common enemy in the past may have changed history for the better.
All in all, this movie is fun to look at (I’m referring to the landscape shots of course) and fun to see unfold.
The lighting, the landscapes, and general grunginess of all those involved point to a rip-roaring, gun slinging, cow roping Western and by all accounts, that’s exactly what it is…just add aliens.
It’s not perfect, but it’s unexpected and well done.
…whew…got through that without one mention of Hans Solo, Indiana Jones, or James Bond…shoot.
Don’t forget to check out the rest of our reviews and reactions: The Crusade on Cinema