The Good, The Bad
and The Alien
Cowboys & Aliens 2011 USA
Directed by Jon Favreau
Screening at UK cinemas
Warning: Okay, there’s a couple of spoilers here involving the end of the movie and some characters dying... Proceed with caution and the odd “Yeehaw!”
You know, I really like Jon Favreau as a director... I loved the Iron Man films, the first of which is an absolute text book study of how to do a comic book adaptation right and hit all the right notes with both the fans of the original characters and the general public at large. And who doesn’t love him as an actor? The absurd but tough fat man with a heart of gold personality he oozes into such characters as Foggy Nelson in Daredevil and Tony Stark’s bodyguard in his own Iron Man movies is an absolute joy to watch... probably also in his many comedy roles which I’ve yet to see (most of the kinds of movies he’s in aren’t really my cup of tea).
All the same though, I was worried about Cowboys & Aliens from the outset. I’ll give you a warning right now that I’ve not read the original graphic novel on which this movie is based but I have just read a synopsis of what happens in that one and I have to say that if I was a fan of the original work... then I’d probably hate Cowboys & Aliens with a passion. It looks like, not only are the characters not used, but it seems like an entirely different story too. The one link seems to be they both have Cowboys & Aliens in it. Probably didn’t need to credit the source for the idea at all I would have thought... but then again, I haven't read it so I don’t actually know.
But like I said... I was worried anyway because I knew Favreau had just quit working on John Carter of Mars and handed over to another director for another shot at it (and I believe after seeing this movie that it’s much to our disadvantage that he didn’t stay with John Carter of Mars because I’ve seen the trailer for that and it looks like a horrendous kick in the teeth of disrespect to Edgar Rice Burroughs' original characters) and the development time on this one seemed to be rather quick. But you gotta love the title. And so I was still keenly looking forward to it... until the first trailers hit. Man, they were bad. This film looked like a total mess if the trailers were anything to go by.
Also, the general buzz on the reviews and the comments I’d seen about this movie on Twitter really did nothing to make me want to see this one. Did anyone like this movie? As a result of all this, it’s taken me this long, which is about three or four weeks into its run, to actually bother to get myself to the cinema to see it. But it looks like it’s on the way out and I did enjoy that first Iron Man movie a lot so I thought I’d give it a go. I sat there last night in a darkened cinema, waiting to be bored out of my mind by a two hour drudge fest and, I have to level with you here and now... I had a great time with this movie.
Everything was right with this movie in the general broad areas of it’s initial paint brush strokes to give us a portrayal of a “hard man” with amnesia on an unspecified mission in the Old West. I was somewhat surprised at the way Daniel Craig played this role. In the opening sequence, where he finds himself alone in the dessert with a funny wrist band which he can’t get off, we are treated to a veritable smorgasbord of facial expressions which seemed to me, with my limited appreciation of the art of acting, to be a little clumsy. But, while I think the reality of the role was not quite there with him, it would also be true to say that he excelled in the tough man, ruthlessness part of the job. Despite what I personally saw as wooden acting for just a little while, he still manages to come off pretty strong against heavyweights Harrison Ford and Sam Rockwell so one can't really fault his performance. It’s a larger than life role after all.
This film went into Western cliché territory very quickly... and that’s just fine. You don't have time with this kind of genre cross-pollination kind of movie to do anything but use all your movie shorthand to get things across quickly. The opening half an hour was absolutely riveting but I’d already been told that. I’d also been told that once the aliens arrive... the whole movie goes to pot. Not true. When the aliens arrive it just kicks up in to high gear even more and moves, yeah slightly away from the Western iconography perhaps, but really makes for a nice ride of an action movie. Although it’s got some heavyweight actors in this, it’s by no means a “star vehicle” but actually a nice ensemble piece with some good chemistry going between the leads and the supporting cast. A real pleasure to watch and the aliens, for once in this kind of movie, are really nicely designed. They are quite terrifying and make for a really serious and potent threat to the main protagonists.
The cherry on the cake is, of course, Harry Gregson-Williams full-on, engaging score. I’ve never been his greatest fan, it has to be said, but he really knocks it out the ball park on this one. A broad, fluffy Western score in the Americana mode but with mild but obvious nods to the Spaghetti Western style of scoring... it still feels very much like a modern soundtrack scored with musical styles which are very much about what’s going on now with movie scoring (yeah, I mean that positively okay? Movie music isn’t dying out as much as everybody thinks it is.). Kinda the Old West meets light Techno would be my best description of it. It’s also very prominently mixed into the foreground of the soundtrack too... some movie makers might like to make a note of that.
I’ve been trying to wonder why this film has had such a lacklustre critical reception and I’m wondering now if that isn’t to do with the female element of the movie. There are two female characters in this film who are romantic figures to Daniel Craig’s anti-hero character and both of them meet with violent ends with no hope of survival... even though one of them has already been seen to resurrect herself after death with her cool alien powers. Also, this self-healing woman kinda usurps both Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford’s manly roles in the movie by sacrificing her own life to save the day, and mankind, by totally destroying the invading, alien menace. No bad thing and a big blow struck for female empowerment but maybe the genre expectations from the audience of this kind of female led resolution were reacting in a less than satisfied manner. I don’t know and I can’t speak for anyone else but, personally, I loved it.
My one complaint on this movie was that I felt it was just a little overlong. It didn’t drag really but there were a few places in the long action sequences near the end when I was thinking, yeah I’ve already seen that... I don’t need to see it again. Maybe a little judicious pruning throughout, taking it down from a two hour film to a 90 minute movie would have been a little better for it.
Still, it was entertaining enough to not let the length hamstring it too much and I would definitely recommend this movie to any fence-sitters out there who can’t quite make up their mind whether or not to go and see it and are up for a rollicking good action flick. This is definitely worth the time!