With a star studded cast and a talented director, Cowboys and Aliens had potential to be one of this summer’s best blockbusters. Instead, the film turns out to be mediocre at best, with a few cheap thrills and a handful of impressive action scenes thrown in to make up for the lack of character development and emotion.
The story is set in the 1800s, when the Wild West was a warzone and notorious outlaws ran rampant through the countryside. The protagonist, Jake Lonergan, wakes up in the middle of nowhere with no memory of who he is or where he came from. He discovers that a strange shackle has been placed around his wrist. Upon his arrival in a quaint little town called Absolution, he catches the attention of the local sheriff. Lonergan is captured and imprisoned, charged with theft and murder. His capture soon draws Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde to Absolution, but before any decision can be made on what to do with him, mysterious aircrafts attack and carry away several townsfolk. The attack prompts an urgent rescue mission, and Lonergan and Dolarhyde must work together to get their people back. With a band of the remaining townsfolk and a beautiful woman named Ella, the two men embark on a daring quest to rescue their loved ones and discover what they are up against.
Aside from Daniel Craig as Jake Lonergan and the legendary Harrison Ford as Colonel Dolarhyde, the film’s cast isn’t really anything special. Sure, Sam Rockwell is a fantastic actor, but the script he is given here does not give him much to work with. It is disappointing to see him give such a lackluster performance, especially since he has so much talent. Olivia Wilde makes quite an effort to pull off the role of Ella, but she ultimately comes off as a flat character. Aside from Dolarhyde and Lonergan, none of the characters are developed enough to connect with or invest in emotionally.
As a genre mash up, the film does not quite work. As a Western, the movie does a great job. As a science fiction movie, it falls flat. The concept seems intriguing enough at first, but when the purpose of the aliens’ presence on Earth is revealed, it just goes downhill from there. A bigger story arc would have added more depth to the film and paved the way for possible sequels, but the story we get is so small in scope that no real sense of urgency surfaces. That, coupled with an underwhelming climax, make for a disappointing mash up of two beloved genres.
The film features a few exciting action sequences, but twenty to thirty minutes of watching aliens knock cowboys off horses grows old fast. A few characters get moments to shine, but their victory(and our enjoyment) seems spoiled by how thrown together everything seems.
Cowboys and Aliens, while not a complete failure as a film, could have been so much better. 2.5/5 stars