I’m on to you Jon Favreau. With all the fake “B” movies coming out lately that turn out to be good (Machete, Hobo with a Shotgun) the average movie goer is getting used to the idea that the ludicrous can be “so bad that it’s good”. While Cowboys and Aliens is by no means a “B” movie its title suggests it, and that is all the ad campaign that was needed. People flocked to go see Cowboys and Aliens this weekend, and most of them went ironically. When I would ask people I know what they thought about the upcoming film, the most common response was: “Oh my God, that movie looks ridiculous,” followed quickly by “I can’t wait to see it.” From the first time I saw the trailer and title I knew this was going to be the case. I really wanted this movie to be good, if for no other reason than for the pseudo intellectual hipsters to eat their words. So is Cowboys and Aliens good? Short story: yes. Long story: it’s complicated.
The western genre has been somewhat underwhelming lately. With the exception of great films like True Grit and 3:10 to Yuma westerns have lost their mainstream appeal. Putting aliens and big budget explosions in seems to be Favreau’s way of broadening the appeal. Make no mistake, this is a western film that just so happens to have aliens, not the other way around. There are no deeper Sci Fi elements here besides the presence of the otherworldly, and frankly, for this critic, that leaves something to be desired. This film gives you an idea of what a combination of the genres would be like but in truth is just a western movie.
The western elements; however, are handled very nicely. The first major confrontation with the aliens happens in the town square with a crowd of people watching, much like in classic westerns where the entire town is viewing the shootout through the relative safety of their shop windows. They round up a posse, a boy becomes a man, and they even touch on Native American relations. This is a formulaic western at its finest.
Despite the title, Cowboys and Aliens doesn’t suffer from an identity crisis. It is summer popcorn entertainment and it knows it. That makes the fantastic performances by Ford, Craig, and crew even more striking. I couldn’t help but feel the quality of the acting felt out of place in the lackluster story told. The use of amnesia as a narrative device should tell one all they need to know about what to expect plot-wise. The way Cowboys and Aliens plays off its insane premise with a straight face is something to be admired. Looking at the movie in a strictly entertainment value perspective will show something different. The action will not disappoint, it is a very fun movie to watch. Cowboys delivers more thrills than your average summer flick. People looking to see an exciting action film will not be disappointed.
Predictable plot aside, this homage to the western genre’s clichés succeeds on many levels. If you are interested in seeing an explosive summer blockbuster or if you want to see Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford backpack a derivative plot, Cowboys and Aliens is the movie for you. More discerning customers will witness a genre film put through its paces in a new way. Cowboys and Aliens is not as good of a movie as I’d hoped it would be, but it turned out a hell of a lot better than most thought it would.
The Good: Excellent performances and nostalgic western situations played out in a new way.
The Bad: A distinct lack of Sci Fi elements
The Ugly: I don’t think the basic plot could get more predictable.