What happened in the movie: When a man (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the middle of a western plain, he sees a picture of a woman, and realizes he has a iron bracelet on his wrist. He has no recollection of who he is, and he encounters some cowboys who he beats, taking clothes, a gun, and horse. He rides into a nearby small town, where he instantly causes trouble by taking care of a misfit who verbally attacks the town named Percy (Paul Dano) . Once the sheriff encounters the mysterious man (who we learned is named Jake), he attempts to arrest him as he is an outlaw. When Jake tries to escape, he suffers a blow to the head by a woman, Ella (Olivia Wilde), who knows more about Jake than he does.
Once Jake is chained inside the wagon to be taken in for prosecution, he sees Ella who says she couldn’t let Jake leave. Near exiting the town, Percy’s father, Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), comes to retrieve Percy himself, but sees Jake, and asks for him as well. Seems Jake stole some gold from the Colonel. Before you know it, a mysterious light shines on the outlands, and bright lights flood the town. Metal flying machines come zooming out of the sky, attacking and capturing townspeople. Jake uses the metal bracelet on his arm to end the fight by destroying an aircraft. Dolarhyde recruits Jake to bring back the townsfolk, which includes his son. Ella joins them, along with the bartender (whose wife was taken), a young boy (his grandpa went with the aliens too), and a doggie!
What I thought: Cowboys and Aliens was a thing of originality in this summer swamped by comic book movies, sequels, prequels, movies based on cartoons, or the like. While based on a graphic novel (by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg), the premise is definitely “new,” as Sci-Fi and Western haven’t really met up before (unless you want to count Back to the Future III, but that movie didn’t have aliens).
Now it could be original and stink, but thankfully C&A doesn’t. The one weakest link here is Olivia Wilde’s character, Ella. I would’ve liked to have seen even further back story about her, maybe even in a visual sense (as opposed to just dialogue explaining it all), as while we do get flashbacks of what happened to Jake, showcasing what happened to him. We don’t get that with Ella, and that kind of bothered me.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff. Daniel Craig, with his piercing blue eyes, kicks all kind of ass with a gruff sounding western voice. He doesn’t do too much, but it’s just enough to let you know his character doesn’t mess around. I still find it amazing how British people can do an American accent so well, and Craig really toned it so he made it sound like he belonged there in the old west.
Ford, thankfully, is back in good form as the sometimes rough, sometimes fatherly, always defensive Dolarhyde. The interesting thing is, if this film were put out years ago, it seems that Jake would be a role Ford would get instantly. However, it’s cool to see the “passing of the torch” in a sense, and the interaction between Ford and Craig is solid.
The special effects are also very well done. I am glad they didn’t show any glimpses of the aliens in the trailer, because seeing them for the first time is a treat. They don’t look like typical aliens, but they do have a human type figure to them, and their movements reminded me of raptors from Jurassic Park. There’s much attention to detail on them, so the creators really showcased a knack for making them look real enough.
There are some moments where the western scenery will take your breath away. Like with the aliens, I’m a big fan of attention to detail, so the backdrop was awe inspiring to me. Also, the western town, with all the carriages, costumes, set design, etc., was very acute, and they did a fantastic job.
With all that said, Jon Favreau (the director) definitely delivered the summer goods. Cowboys and Aliens gives us a delicate balance between sci-fi and western elements; one doesn’t trump the other. For every battle or fight scene there is, a slower, more emotional moment showcases itself to even the playing field. Favreau, as he showed us with the original Iron Man, can provide character driven plot with an action counterpart very well. Cowboys and Aliens may not be my favorite movie this summer, but it certainly ranks as one of the highest.