The hate I’ve heard for Cowboys and Aliens staggers me, not least because these are some of the same critics who all but soiled themselves over the latest Transformers seemingly because Michael Bay didn’t just vomit all over the screen. “It’s like he made an ACTUAL movie! He didn’t just put an edit in every 2.5 seconds and I swear to God sometimes you can really tell what’s happening!!! It’s great!!!”
You know who else made an actual movie, a true summer-style popcorn flick where you can understand the action onscreen and have a blast doing so? Jon Favreau, that’s who. He’s done it twice in the last few years with the Iron Man movies and he’s done it again this summer. But people (critics as well as audiences, apparently, which is sad) are acting like Cowboys and Aliens broke into their house and pissed all over their bed. Which irks me to no end, as I quite dug this flick.
The story is made up out of parts of roughly every Western ever made, a la Silverado (which I love): there’s a stranger (Daniel James Bond Craig) who has lost his memory but not his ability to whup ass, a wealthy cattle rancher (Harrison Indiana Ford Jones) who rules the local town of Absolution with an iron fist, a band of roving outlaws raiding the territory fearlessly, the local Indians causing trouble for God-fearing white folk everywhere...but with the added wrinkle of a couple of extraterrestrial assholes dropping by to make trouble for everybody. Do you think perhaps that lawmen, criminals, cowboys and Indians might band together to battle this alien menace with some can-do American “don’t tread on me” spirit? Of course they do, and it rocks.
The particulars of the plot are only SO important, so what I’ll do instead is go over some of the characters and whatnot, which should tell you a thing or two about what transpires if you’ve, you know, ever seen a movie before. We’ve already discussed badass icons Craig as the amnesiac stranger and surly-ass Ford, but there’s one hell of a cast left over to run amuck here. Clancy Brown is a preacher carrying a bottle o’ whiskey in one hand and a double barreled shotgun in the other. As Ford’s entitled, bullying son, I give you Paul Dano, and I promise you he’s such a spoiled little prick you’ll immediately ask me to take him back. Adam Beach is Dano’s minder (one of cinema’s most special addition to Hollywood westerns, the “good” Indian) and makes you wonder why Ford wouldn’t just shoot Dano and adopt Beach for being awesome. The part of the spunky orphan kid who gets to learn valuable lessons in ass-kicking is Noah Ringer and he’s actually pretty good here, as opposed to The Last Airbender, which. . .well, you know. Sam Rockwell takes the role of “Doc,” the city-slicker who’s come to the West to make his fortune and ends up owning the town saloon and is sarcastically pissy about everything. Olivia Wilde is the mysterious hot chick wandering around who has no compulsion about wearing a dress with a six-gun strapped over it (which may seem weird but looks totally cool, especially with Wilde wearing it). Keith Carradine is the town sheriff; that should tell you everything you need to know about that. Walton “I will kick ass in every single supporting role in an FX show they’ll give me” Goggins is a kinda stupid outlaw with as many teeth as a jack-o-lantern.
Honestly, with those actors in those roles, you should pretty much know roughly everything the movie intends to throw at you. So yeah, it’s pretty predictable. But what’s wrong with that, honestly? Favreau lets them all do their thing, and they’re who they are ‘cause they’re great at it. Favs (I call him that ‘cause we’re so close and all, you get it) can also direct a hell of an action scene as well as the quieter moments and gets some great visuals out of the locations. It really, TRULY feels like a solid Western and then they drop the ugly-ass aliens into that.
The aliens are pretty damn freaky too, and refreshingly brutal as they go about their business. Not a “but we’re afraid to actually kill people” PG-13 flick do we have here, and bless ‘em for that. The spaceships are well-designed and it’s pretty nuts to see them flying around, yanking people up off the ground, off horses, and from houses with this super-powered metal rope type deal. I’ve heard folks complaining about that too -- “that’s kind of weird, what is that?” -- and I just shake my head, cause it’s a LASSO, you know, a parallel thing? Oh my god.)
So, I don’t know. If the idea of introducing aliens and special effects into Westerns makes you pee your pants ‘cause it’s not “realistic,” then I not only urge you to stay as far away from this as you can (along with anything resembling a good time) but ask why you’d read this in the first place. People bitching about a lack of realism should honestly just take a Xanax and chill out; these are the same humorless bastards who, years ago, complained about getting “chocolate in my peanut butter!” And we all know how that turned out, right? Yeah, with Reese’s being goddamn delicious. Shut up, assholes.
It’s Cowboys and Aliens, just like Snakes on a Place or Hot Tub Time Machine. Everything you need to know is right there in the title. It ain’t rocket science. And a great time, as a matter of fact. Daniel Craig continues to prove that he can handle business with the best of ‘em, Harrison Ford seems to be having more fun here than he has in a long time, and that makes me happy. Just like watching cowboys blasting aliens in the heads with a ten gauge does.