Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Warlock's Review: Cowboys and Aliens

Being a geek has its ups and downs.  For every Iron Man, The Dark Knight, or Captain America: The First Avenger that comes out, we also get a Green Lantern, a Batman and Robin or Elektra.  Excitement and enthusiasm can carry you so far, but at the end of the day, a filmmaker has to make a good film.

Let's get this straight from the outset:  Cowboys and Aliens is not a good film.

Cowboys and Aliens
Utterly generic, with massive flaws.
I had really high hopes for this one, tied primarily to my irrational Deadlands obsession in recent months.  But, even outside of my fanboy-ism, I had reason to be excited.  Daniel Craig's career has been on the rise, and he single-handedly rejuvenated the James Bond franchise with a stellar performance in Casino Royale.  Harrison Ford is...well, he's Harrison Ford!  If you don't know who he is, crawl out from under your rock!  Director Jon Favreau took Iron Man and made it into the gold-standard for comic-book movies.  Olivia Wilde provided eye candy for the otherwise-uninspired Tron: Legacy and made it watchable.  Where could we go wrong?

Oh, so many ways, as it turned out.

First off, let's talk about the plot.  It's razor-thin, and the characters ramble through it like they're lost.  Aliens are attempting to infiltrate the earth, looking for gold (we never do find out why, though).  They're abducting human specimens to find out our weaknesses, in preparation for a full invasion.  Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) is an amnesiac survivor of an abduction, with a metal death-ray shooting bracelet attached to his wrist.

As we find out within the first ten minutes--some amnesia, huh?--Lonergan is the leader of a gang of banditos who have robbed the local cattle baron Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford).  Both Lonergan and Dolarhyde's son get arrested after a brawl in town, but when the titular aliens raid the town, Lonergan is released to lead the town's survivors against the aliens.  For the next hour and a half, Lonergan, Dolarhyde and their motley crew of survivors wrangle Lonergan's banditos, some local Apache warriors, and anyone else they can find in a last-ditch battle against the invaders.

Character development is at an utter premium in Cowboys and Aliens.  No.  Scratch that.  Character development is a liability in this movie.  The most interesting character, by far, is the preacher who patches up Lonergan at the start of the movie, then joins the posse....but he dies less then a third of the way into the movie.  After his death, we meet Dolarhyde's ward--an Apache trail-guide and translator who looks at Dolarhyde as a father, even has Dolarhyde pushes him away.  He, too--the only major ethnic character, of course--dies. 

Olivia Wilde's only expression in "Cowboys and Aliens"
Also note the utter lack of lighting--the majority of the movie
is that dim, the entire way through.
Lonergan himself is meant to be an homage to Clint Eastwood's immortal Man With No Name, but his Craig's natural charisma is entirely wasted.  The PlatinumChick came away from the movie asking seriously whether Craig had more than 20 lines in the whole movie.  Harrison Ford--one of the greatest action stars of the modern era, seems more like an old man as he dodders through his scenes.  Olivia Wilde exudes no personality as the mystery woman, Ella, and she could have just as easily been playing her computer-program alter-ego from Tron: Legacy.  A small bright spot is found in the saloon-owner, played by Sam Rockwell, but his development arc is cut short when the aforementioned preacher is killed. 

Cinematography, in addition, suffers greatly.  For all of the time spent on CGI and the interesting design on the aliens, we see very little of them.  The lighting in Cowboys and Aliens and the speed at which the aliens' scenes are shot make them all but impossible to get a good look at.  Hell, most of the film is difficult to see, as the lighting is dimmed to the point of illegibility.  I understand that the movie is meant to be a "period authentic" piece, but if the audience can't see what's going on, what's the point?

As if all of this wasn't bad enough, the movie reeks of lazy, poorly designed storytelling.  As I mentioned earlier, nearly every character that evolved or developed through the course of the story ended up dead before their arc could be completed.  But, instead of developing these characters (or even keeping them around!), the writers replace any sense of genuine emotion or fondness for the characters with...a kid and a dog.

Congress just got blown up, but who cares... long as the puppy survives!
This is lazy, sloppy writing.  We don't care about the kid or the dog as characters--we're utterly uninvested in them, outside of the fact that they're a kid or a dog.  This is the same poor writing that was bad 15 years ago, in Independence Day.  Rather than focusing on actual characters, the writers ride the simple fact that no one wants to watch the fluffy puppy die. 

Stepping out of the car last night--we saw Cowboys and Aliens at a drive-in, with some of the other WittKids--the only movie that I could compare Cowboys and Aliens to was Green Lantern.  Both were highly hyped, highly budgeted movies with star power, which both collapsed under their own pathetic writing, poor cinematography, and lack of character development.  Save your money, fellow gamers.  Don't even bother renting Cowboys and Aliens.  Watch the trailer two or three times, and you've seen all you need to see.  The Warrior's Way was a better offbeat Western movie than this.


  1. Anonymous4:22 PM

    As a popcorn flick at a drive in, I thought it was just fine. I suppose we'll have to agree to disagree.

  2. I had high hopes for C&A, because of the cast and director, and I just felt let down overall, especially in comparison to other comic-book movies that have come out recently (Thor, Captain America, The Dark Knight...).

    Kit, David, Jules and I actually had more fun making fun of Winnie the Pooh than in actually watching C&A. That goes a lot towards my opinion of it...