Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Review: Cowboys & Aliens

Here we have a film that reunites beloved characters James Bond and Indiana Jones for the first time since their epic crossover Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where the two battled Nazis.  In this time traveling sequel Jones and Bond are trapped in the 19th Century and must put aside their differences once more as they try to stop an alien invasion-

What’s that?  This isn’t a James Bond/Indiana Jones crossover?  And neither was The Last Crusade?  Huh.  That’s lame.

In reality Cowboys & Aliens is the latest Hollywood film based on a comic book no one has ever heard of.   Apparently the story behind this property is a long and possibly scandalous one full of gambles and big payoffs but to put it simply, as I understand it, the comic was originally just a name and loose concept by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg that he hoped to sell as a film property based on a “still in development graphic novel”.  When it didn’t immediately happen he went ahead and made the comic in 2006 where soon afterward it finally caught Hollywood’s attention.  Now I know that this isn’t the first time people in the comic book industry have created comics for the sole purpose of taking advantage of Hollywood’s unstoppable hunger for adaptations (Mark Millar supposedly did something similar with Kick-Ass) but at the end of the day I’m a bit annoyed by that trend.   I guess I just prefer the idea of comic books being written for comic book fans and/or art as opposed to comic books being written as bait for a high priced licensing deals.  Anyway this film is directed by Jon Favreau, the man behind Iron Man and more embarrassingly Iron Man 2.  It seems to be written by a ton of different dudes but the two names that stand out to me are Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, the men who wrote the first two live-action Transformers fiascoes films and also the Star Trek reboot film form 2009.  However strangely it seems that this is more of a loose adaptation than anything else.   I never read the original comic but as I can see the flick takes a lot of liberties with its source material to the point where its strongest connection to the comics was that they both feature cowboys fighting an alien invasion.  Though technically only Harrison Ford’s character and his lot can really be considered cowboys since they were the only people in this film involved in the cattle business, but to be fair that’s the type of nitpicking that explains why I don’t get invited to parties very often.

It's basically this except with aliens and their ages reversed
 Full review after the jump.

Seriously, who among us hasn't woken up with one of these on our arms?
In the year 1873 a mysterious man (Daniel Craig) has just awoken in the middle of nowhere with no memory of who he is or how he got there.  His only clue is the strange metal contraption around his wrist.  After a few shenanigans he makes his way to the town of Absolution where he is eventually arrested for crimes he doesn’t recall doing.  Just as he is about to be taken away, either by the US Marshals or by the cruel and rich cattle owner Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), a group of strange flying metal vehicles attack the town, killing or kidnapping the town’s population.   It becomes apparent very quickly that the device on the amnesiac man’s arm is the only defense against this bizarre new threat.

I think the best thing that can be said for Cowboys & Aliens is that it manages to feel like a western, despite the fact that it’s a Science Fiction Alien Invasion Cliché.   I heard that the director and writers watched a lot of old Western films and went to great lengths to have the appropriate tone and I can honestly say that the parts of the film where that was the most obvious lend were the most entertaining moments of the movie.  This includes the ending which I absolutely loved.  [Spoiler] It was the classic Western ending; bittersweet at best and with someone ridding off into the sunset (So to speak).  I will speak more of the Sci-Fi stuff in a bit but I would like to point out that as far as a Western with fantasy elements added to it this film is a much, much, much more successful blend than last year’s improbably bad Jonah Hex.  This is what that movie probably wanted to be.

Craig and Ford were alright, though Ford didn’t come off the most sincere during the film, but I was really impressed with several key members of the supporting cast. Somehow we got Clancy Brown, Sam Rockwell, and Walton Goggins meaning that the filmmakers somehow used advanced technology to look into my brain and see who are my favorite voice actors, film actors and television actors and try to get as many of them into one film as they could.   If this movie starred these three guys I would have probably declared it the best film of the year without even seeing it.   

Clancy Brown as the kindly preacher (Probably)
Olivia Wilde is this movie too and she was fine I suppose (Though I was shocked to see that she wasn’t really a love interest, implying that Hollywood isn’t completely made up of assholes).  She didn’t set my world on fire though.  Weirdly I heard some rather strange outcry of people pissed off that she doesn’t get naked in this film.  Now I enjoy naked ladies as much as the next guy, probably slightly more in fact, but what exactly were you expecting from a PG-13 movie?  Go watch Alpha Dog if you’re that into the idea of seeing the goods and shut the hell up.

Pictured: The reason 70% of the internet went to see this film
As far as problems with this movie there’s not a lot to mention.  It’s a very inoffensive film and has a lot of beats that I’ve seen before in films and nothing here really did much for me in general.  I did kind of roll my eyes at the aliens’ motivation for coming to Earth, namely taking our gold.  There’s something kind of silly about an alien invasion having the same basic game plan as a grizzled prospector who’s moved to California seeking his fortune.  I kept waiting for a random alien to shout “There’s goooooooold on that there planet”, though sadly it never came.  Speaking of the aliens I have to say that while the presence of the Sci-Fi stuff wasn’t bad per say it really felt like it was dragging down what would otherwise be a really awesome western.  This flick was almost one of the best old west films of the last ten years except for all the alien invasion stuff.   If it had been re-written to focus on the main character’s memory loss, control of Absolution, and an increased role for the three actors I mentioned above this could have been a really badass follow-up to True Grit but unfortunately it just isn’t capable of doing it as is.

This isn’t a bad film at all; far from it.  As summer action films go it’s still a lot more intelligent, and classier, than some of the shit Hollywood produces (See: Clash of the Titans).   However I can’t overlook that this could have been a fantastic straight Western if the people making the film had chosen to go that route.  It’s best to think of this movie as if it were meatloaf: it has all the same basic ingredients as a really tasty hamburger but adds things that made it into something I don’t’ like as much.  But hey, I do in fact like meatloaf and I also like this movie.  Check it out if you’d like to see a relatively fresh spin on both the Western genre and the Alien Invasion genre.

Bond: You were named after the dog?
Jones: I loved that dog.
I give Indiana Jones/James Bond: First Contact Cowboys & Aliens 3 out of 5 Adorable Pandas.


-The Western aspects are really well done

-The ending was surprisingly cool


-Science Fiction elements keep the film from fulfilling its potential

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