With a sharp gasp for air an unnamed man (Daniel Craig) wakes up and finds himself injured and lying in the middle of the desert. He has no memory of how this happened, who he is or what this weird bracelet thing is on his arm but before he or we can even begin to think of the million possibilities three drafters on horses arrive on the scene believing him to be worth a bounty reward. They are quickly beaten by the man with no name who then steals one of the horses and with company of man’s best friend sets off to the nearest village.
It turns out that this man with no name is called Jake Lonergan and he is a wanted outlaw who has committed a crime, of which he can’t remember, and is swiftly arrested by the sheriff (Keith Carradine) along with Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde’s ( Harrison Ford) son Percy (Paul Dano). Woodrow Dolarhyde hears of this and rides into the town to free his son and catch Jake, however there is a mysterious light in the sky which suddenly attacks and abducts the locals. Loved ones are taken and as a result a small band of men and a woman (consisting of Sam Rockwell, Noah Ringer and Olivia Wilde) attempt to find and rescue the hostages.
Oddly enough director Jon Favreau decides to play this rather silly premise with a serious face, avoiding the camp humour that could have made it more enjoyable, considering the premise the film itself is more serious than one would expect. With James Bond and Indiana Jones teaming up in an Independence Day and The Searchers style film there is a perfect recipe for some good entertainment but Favreau’s execution never meets the promising premise as he directs a dull film that never ignites into life. Favreau tries to play a silly premise seriously and it ends up backfiring on him as plenty happens, explosions, deaths and so on but none of this is very interesting, as after the alien is revealed we just do not care about anything or what happens to anyone. Favreau takes a serious look on something that nobody will ever take seriously in a million years.
However if you are going for a more serious route the characters should be well rounded and engaging individuals but they are not. The vast majority of the characters are nothing more than cardboard cutouts that are deeply uninteresting and dreadfully one dimensional. Even the two central performances of Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford are rather boring and lacking in sufficient depth to make them remotely interesting. Daniel Craig, perhaps, has the most interesting character but after a while we lose interest. The mystery surrounding his back-story is interesting at first but it peters out and the audience loses interest in the many questions surrounding the film, Why are the aliens here? They want that? Why? Is it? No, don’t be silly. What is the bracelet on Jake’s wrist? How did that robber get his teeth fixed so quickly?
The supporting characters are even more poorly drawn out as they are shallow and lifeless (the supporting players include Olivia Wilde and Sam Rockwell who deliver bland performances). There are too many characters to deal with, to many pointless inclusions, too many people to connect to and not a single one is written well enough to present them as likeable. Each death remains nothing more than a minor plot point in this soulless blockbuster that one becomes as emotionally detached too as one is to an X Factor contestant during their sob stories. Cowboys and Aliens had five writers and it shows as they try to cram in as many ideas and references (Alien, Stagecoach and Sergio Leone’s western trilogy) as possible. As the five writers attempt to cram so much action, ideas and references in the film the story becomes a bit of a mess. They have plenty of ideas but none of them are very interesting.
Cowboys and Aliens start off decently, there is a sense of mystery surrounding the man with no name in the early proceedings but as the film progresses the interest levels drop. There is also a sense of tension surrounding what the alien looks like but when the alien is revealed around the half way point that part of the story is also now redundant. It seems that writers are losing the imagination to create an interesting and scary alien (take Battle LA and Attack the Block as examples). What made Ridley Scott’s Alien so great is the tension built around the terrifying mystery of what the alien looked like and revealing the alien in all its glory (as Favreau and his team of writers did) would result in the alien having a significantly smaller impact on how interesting the story is. Once the alien is shown in its entirety the one thing the film had going for is now gone; now there is very little to care about because the characters are not really worth your time. The script itself is clumsily written and a tad clunky which just add to the mountain of problems.
While Cowboys and Aliens remains well shot, capturing the sparse landscapes of many western movies, the action scenes lack tension, the aliens are boring, the characters are one dimensional but most damaging of all is the story is unexciting and falls completely flat. Just because one throws in plenty of western themes that does not mean the two genres of Western and Science Fiction gel together. Cowboys and Aliens only just made a small profit but it really should have done better than it did. Cowboys and Aliens is soulless, without heart and, despite plenty happening, dull