Cowboys & Aliens is one of those movies that I have been waiting all summer to see, though with a sliver of doubt in my heart. I mean, can a movie titled Cowboys & Aliens really be that good? So far, the reviews are mixed on this one. Let me tell you, sometimes critics take themselves and every movie they see too seriously. Were they expecting a riveting drama and an award winning script? Those who were are the ones who hated this movie. With enough action, thrills and laughs to fill a ten gallon hat, it’s everything you hope it will be and so much more. Thank goodness for a movie that can finally qualify as a must-see summer blockbuster.
The setting is a hot and dusty wild west, complete with wide shots of flat lands before distant mountains. Enter the stranger with a dark past wearing pants stretched tighter than the face-lifts in Sex and the City 2. Really, you’ve seen this movie before: anti-hero reluctantly sides with those who would subdue him to fight a greater force that will be the end of them all. Of course, our protagonist is the only one who can save the day. The difference here is that, obviously, we are given a mash-up of two genres that aren’t easily (or normally) paired. What many aren’t expecting is how well Favreau is able to pull it all together. The more you know about westerns, the more you are going to enjoy this film. Every cliche is matched to a tee, then blown ever so slightly out of proportion. Craig is the stone cold, unsmiling man of few words. His former gang of ‘boys’ are filthy, rambunctious, and dumber than a sack of hammers. Sam Rockwell plays a saloon owner, wearing round spectacles, an apron, and slicked down hair. The scenery is just a little more desolate and a little more daunting than every other cowboy movie you have seen. Every great western has these characters and elements, and Favreau is constantly winking to those in the know. This allows for plenty of humorous moments to occur with the mere placement of a camera or a sidelong look.
All the actors did a fantastic job. They all understood exactly what the feel of this movie was, and carried that understanding over into every scene. Craig makes a fantastic straight-man, using his eyes to carry his emotions and humor to a scene with ease. Paul Dano plays a spoiled, drunken brat so well that you want to reach through the screen and teach him what his mama didn’t. Harrison Ford was the real delight though. He’s been doing this so long that he knows exactly what people are looking for when they see him in a film. He’s’ grouchy, pissed off, and growls out his lines, but has that uncanny ability to time them perfectly to get those well deserved laughs.
Now we’ve talked about the western aspects, but we can’t forget about the aliens! From the moment the first spaceship flew across the screen, the audience was totally sucked in. Favreau wisely plays off the Hitchcock vibe by withholding the look of the aliens until further into the movie. He creates a sense of horror using shadows, glimpses, and some freaky sound effects until the story can no longer delay the unmasking of these hulking monstrosities. This was an unexpected pleasure since all the trailers lead you to believe Cowboys & Aliens is more of an action/thriller than anything else. The special effects are flawless and well directed and produced. The CGI blends seamlessly into the scenes, allowing the characters to joust, lasso, and wrassle them aliens for a coon’s age without any moments that dissolve your suspended reality.
There are multiple moments that will shock you, scare you, crack you up, and move you to clap. Is there anything more you can ask for in a popcorn summer blockbuster? I say no. The title itself sets the tone for the whole movie, letting you know exactly what you are in for. The genres are mashed together for no other reason than to mash them together — for FUN. Did you hear that, you stuck-up critics? F-U-N. That spells Cowboys & Aliens. Do yourself a favor; take a break from not only the God-awful heat but from the God-awful “blockbusters” so far this summer, and go see this one in the theaters.
I give Cowboys & Aliens 4 “Golden Crowns” out of 5.