Saturday, 13 October 2012

Film Review | Cowboys & Aliens (2011)

Cowboys & Aliens stars Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford. It's directed by the guy who successfully brought the Iron Man franchise to the big screen. These facts alone mean that the film being no more than enjoyable is a serious problem.

As its title may suggest, Cowboys & Aliens is a Western-sci-fi mash-up where the Old West meets extra-terrestrial invasion. Jake Lonergan (Craig) awakes in the desert with no memory of who he is or how he got there. Heading into the nearest town, a gold rush settlement on its knees named Absolution, Lonergan quickly finds himself on the wrong side of local cattle magnate Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford) as well as his son Percy (Dano), before the aliens make themselves known to all within the town and begin abduction without prejudice.

Cowboys & Aliens may as well be sponsored by Ronseal (with apologies to any non-UK readers) in that it does exactly what it says on the tin. It has cowboys - some of whom even herd cattle - and it has aliens. They do battle. It's fun. Does it push boundaries? Certainly not. Does it come across as some B-movie knock-up with a minuscule budge? No, it doesn't. The plot paces along without, for the most part, outstaying its welcome. The whole idea brings to mind that episode of The Big Bang Theory where Leonard, Sheldon and company are taken in by the "Mystic Warlords Of Ka'a" playing-card-based  role-playing-game expansion pack "Wild West And Witches". If you've ever wondered who would win in a battle between Billy The Kid and the aliens from Independence Day then Cowboys And Aliens will be right up your street. Otherwise it'll probably entertain you, but do very little else.

Unfortunately, that's Cowboys & Aliens's biggest failing. The last film that teamed up Indiana Jones and James Bond was Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade, and, taking into account popular and critical opinion, it delivered a resounding cinematic triumph. Cowboys & Aliens doesn't. It's not awful by any means, but  neither is it anything spectacular. It barely manages "good" at times. It brings together the most recent 007 - you know, the one that saved the franchise from self-parody - and Dr. Henry Jones Jr., one of the greatest action adventure heroes of all time, and makes something a notch above average at best.

Not only that, but the director is Jon Favreau, the man who realised that Robert Downey Jr. is pretty much the real-life version of Tony Stark. When you appreciate that the supporting cast features an underutilised Sam Rockwell and Paul Dano - watch Moon and There Will Be Blood respectively to see the talent we're dealing with here - it won't be long before you start asking the question: why isn't this film better?

If you're looking for something easy on the grey matter that mashes up two genres you may have thought would never collide in any meaningful way on screen, Cowboys & Aliens may be one of the few worthwhile options you're left with before plumbing the depths of the straight-to-DVD bargain bin. But, if you're a fan of modern cinema, it's likely that you'll find yourself shaking your head at the talent going to waste here as you watch that six-shooter aimed squarely at ET's over-sized skull.


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