Cowboys & Aliens
The idea of a film about cowboys fighting against aliens just seemed as though it could be littered with follies, silliness and the obvious over enthusiasm from Hollywood to turn it into something akin to Independence Day where we see Cowboys saving the world with plenty of gung-ho all-American action.
None of this happened in the final film. The potential pitfalls and problems have all been avoided and we've discovered a rather entertaining film that has plenty of fun for all, a good story, and some nice western moments.
However all this is quickly forgotten when strange lights appear in the night sky, destroy buildings and whisk people into the darkness and the unusual bracelet stuck to the wrist of the stranger comes to life.
Let's tackle the whole plot first of all, because the whole idea does sound rather silly, but the surprising thing is how easy it is to fall right in with it and accept the ideas, because behind the strange idea it is a rather exciting adventure that doesn't let up the pace. From the beginning you feel the intrigue and mystery for the main character that doesn't let up until you're well into the film and you're invested in the story and well wrapped up with all the leads.
Yes it's daft, but it's fun, entertaining and exciting without being flat and uninspiring like so many entertainment adventure films coming from Hollywood. It's got that from three areas, Jon Favreau delivering some of the strengths from the Iron Man films and no doubt Steven Spielberg producing, bringing his own magic to it, even if it is only in the referential lead character's desire to keep hold of his hat, plus the many writers on the project including Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof.
Although I didn't feel that the level of excitement and investment in the film was the same as it was with Iron Man (Filmstalker review) it does carry the same feel with the comedy toned down a little from Robert Downey Jr.'s performance. However here the concentration is to recreate the feel of a western and make the story and the characters strong enough to weave in the aliens without you losing touch with the story.
It does that rather hard task well. The western side of the story is convincing and the film spends time building this side of the story properly connecting you with the characters before moving onto the other side of the story, once you're rooted in the western world of course.
It doesn't slide you in gently either, it throws this alien aspect of the story right at you, or rather it takes you and the western characters and throws you all towards the other side of the story, this is why it works so well.
That said, come the end of the film, I didn't feel particularly moved. Entertaining it is but emotionally engaging it isn't. It's good wholesome fun, but you're liable to have forgotten much of it the next day.
I also did feel that there wasn't much of a great surprise in how the story plays out. The western story follows many a western film, and similarly so does the alien invasion story, the end feeling like quite a few other films we've seen. The unique selling point here was in the combination with real surprises few and far between.
Two things that perplexed me were why all the way through the big final battle no one picked up any alien weaponry, and the other is what happened to the aftermath of the battle. I'll leave that one for you to ponder over when you see it.
As for the performances it could be said that Daniel Craig plays the character very much like he does Bond, but at the same time the character fits well in the western universe, feeling like a mysterious Clint Eastwood character the man with no name, just with some funnier moments and one liners.
Harrison Ford is also good fun, and he plays a character we haven't really seen from him before. He gets to play an angry, rather interesting character that develops well through the film and his character has one of the more satisfying conclusions of them all.
Olivia Wilde plays a rather odd character that has another interesting arc to their story, and it shows that it's not all plain sailing for them. While many of the characters and the story turns might feel similar to films we've seen in the same genre before, hers provides a little something extra although she's left somewhat unexplored and feeling slightly underdeveloped.
I have to say it's a bit of a shame that more wasn't made of Sam Rockwell's character, having seen some great roles from him it is rather disappointing to see him play such standard fare here and for not to be on the screen that long.
One more thing I have to mention is the effects, they are pretty superb. Favreau did a great job of directing, but he also made sure that the effects blended in well with the practical so even when the visuals went out of this world, they still looked like they were in the same reality as the cowboys and the desert around them.
Cowboys & Aliens is a good fun film. It will entertain, make you giggle, and excite, although it won't leave a lasting impression on you. Strong performances and the combination of two very unusual worlds make the film more than the two halves of the story, two halves which do follow rather conventional routes. Filmed well, great effects and some well written dialogue for the big names will all keep you entertained.