Jake Lonergan (Craig) wakes up in the desert with a weird bracelet attached to his wrist and no memory of who he is and how he got there. He rides to a nearby town where he gets himself in the crosshairs of local mogul Woodrow Dollarhyde (Ford). All differences must be put aside though when an otherworldly threat abducts many of the citizens of the town, and Lonergan’s bracelet is their one best defence.
There were a lot of reasons to watch this film prior to its release, and having read many poor reviews online, I still hoped that Cowboys & Aliens would prove a guilty pleasure. Though this was far from the mess I had been led to believe it was, it turned out to have a few good elements that did not for me overall add to a whole.
Perhaps the reason for this is that the two genres do not fit well together in the way that the full movie has been structured. With a title like Cowboys & Aliens, one would expect a delightfully camp B-movie that exploits the humor of these clashing genres. Also, with a director of the comic pedigree of Favreau, there was enough reason to hope this would be the case. However, both genres are played at a more serious angle, and what we watch is a promising western that is tarnished by your average sci-fi fare. This becomes more prominent with some of the more outlandish sci-fi elements. In many ways, grounding the majority of the film in a Western setting makes the sci-fi elements feel wildly out-of-place, and the audiences suspension of disbelief is shattered.
Daniel Craig is as ever brilliant, and his craggy face is very fitting for the hardened highwayman look. His interplay with Ford is also quite charged, and I would love to watch them collaborate again. The other stand out is Beach, whose biggest credit prior to this was Flags of our Fathers. He also shares a good chemistry with the other lead actors, and despite the strain in the scripting of his emotional moments, he manages to imbue them with a suitable level of gravitas. It is Olivia Wilde who is really let down by this movie. She has shown the potential to be great in a few films, but in here she is so hamstrung by the plot it is beyond a joke.
Cowboys and Aliens is far from being a complete disaster, as the action sequences are suitably spectacular and the explosions are suitably large and impressive. The film suffers from what it could have been, that being a great B-Movie with an A-list budget, or a tense Western thriller in the tradition of the Searchers. And as a result it is just another forgettable summer action flick.