With a title like Cowboys & Aliens, a certain level of expectation is accrued before watching. Along with approximately equal parts ranch hands and space travellers; their respective genres of horse opera and sci-fi melded neatly together, there surely must be a hefty dollop of fun, because the premise is more than a little ridiculous. Yes, it's just as plausible as any other alien invasion flick, for why necessarily would beings from another planet arrive in present day, but the very notion of cowboys on horseback, with lassos and pistols, taking on intergalactic creatures capable of space travel and ray guns is just insane. So whilst I'd heard mediocre reviews elsewhere of this film, I at least expected to be entertained and amused throughout.
Chances are, this would have had a better chance of happening with a different cast. Though the film's marketing and other reviewers have revelled in the idea of Bond and Indy together again (The Last Crusade famously saw Sean Connery, the one true Bond, playing Indiana Jones' father) what director Jon Favreau doesn't seem to realise is that an older, eye-twinkle-free Harrison Ford and a stoic, seldom talking Daniel Craig just aren't funny, and have next to no chemistry together.
Craig's Jake Lonergan awakes in the desert with nought but a photograph of a lady, a strange wound on his side and an even stranger chunky bracelet clamped to his arm. He can't remember his name or anything else, so after seeing to a trio of miscreants, he heads into the nearby town of Absolution, terrorised by Ford's bitter cattle baron Dolarhyde. The first half hour or so is easily the best in the film, setting up what looks like an interesting traditional western - albeit significantly more polished and brighter than others made recently, and even once the aliens attack, in a gripping sky-lasso sequence, it stays on the rails. Afterwards however, once every named character has either been snatched by the creatures or sets out after them, it loses it's way.
Lonergan and Dolarhyde's posse - for it is they that lead the hunt - is made up of some nameless alien-fodder, and is joined by a rag-tag bunch of townsfolk, including Sam Rockwell's meek doctor-come-bartender and Olivia Wilde's mysterious stranger. Wilde and Craig look entirely out of place in the Old West, their piercing eyes, clear skin and complete lack of cragginess juxtaposing with the entirety of the rest of the cast, including the likes of Ford, Keith Carradine and Clancy Brown, who appear to have been born to wear a stetson and chaps.
The best characters are easily Rockwell's doc and Paul Dano's Percy, Dolarhyde's obnoxious son, so it's puzzling just why they were sidelined quite so much. Had they been the central pairing, this could have been a far greater, more entertaining and interesting picture. The aliens, too, were disappointing. Their design isn't anything overly creative - other than a chest cavity that opens up to reveal two small arms for delicate work - and they had a confusing blend of advanced weaponry and primitive pounce-and-flail combat techniques. They also had absolutely no characterisation, and quite frankly the notion that they invaded to steal gold is beyond ridiculous, and was the point at which I gave up on the film.
It's my own fault for going in with high hopes after reading middling reviews, but I feel this is a great concept that was floundered on the wrong cast. Favreau as a director seemed a perfect choice, but he forgot to bring the funny. Yes, Craig's impassiveness did cause humour at times, mainly when he caused people pain, but all-in-all this was a missed opportunity for a great film.
Choose life 5/10