There’s something timeless about a good Western, even if the genre has generally fallen out of favor with modern filmgoers. Sprinkle in some scary aliens, stunning special effects, and a terrific cast and the mashup film Cowboys & Aliensturns out to be a terrific and highly entertaining summer tentpole adventure.
Set in sparsely populated New Mexico around 1875, the film starts with bad hombre Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) waking up in the middle of nowhere, with no memory of who he is or how he got there. Stuck to his wrist is a strange metal bracelet, one that is built of technology far beyond what he’s ever seen. Three ruffians show up and try to jump him, saying “son, this just ain’t your lucky day” but they’re wrong. It’s their unlucky day and Jake demonstrates he hasn’t forgotten his fighting skills.
Heading into the sleepy, impoverished town of Absolution, he has a scuffle with local bully Percy (Paul Dano) and ends up tossed in jail by Sheriff Taggart (Keith Carradine). Just as they’re about to leave for the Federal court in Santa Fe, Percy’s Dad Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) shows up and, more dramatically, so do alien spacecraft out of the gloom, intent on lassoing and kidnapping humans.
The juxtaposition of the mythic Old West with the technology and frightening visage of the aliens are at the heart of this movie and Iron Man director Favreau doesn’t disappoint.The creatures are reminiscent of Predator, with some internal plumbing all their own. Westerns are just as much about the sweeping plains and endless skies and Cowboys & Aliens has it’s share of beautiful vistas. In fact, subtract the alien element and it’s a terrific Western with believable personalities, sets and lots of tough hombres on horseback. Fun!
Human vs. alien movies end with the humans winning. It’s the heart of just about every film, that good guys overcome bad guys. Cowboys & Aliens still manages to have an engaging storyline and its aggressive special visual effects notch up the tension quite a bit. We know the cowboys win, but with the Indians on their side? That’s a central theme in the film too: in times of trouble, disparate people can band together to fight the alien invaders.