The benefit of a title as blunt as Cowboys & Aliens is that it’s hard to forget. You don’t sit about and scratch your head trying to remember the name of that movie with cowboys and aliens.
The second pairing of Indiana Jones and James Bond is a sci-fi western. Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) awakes in the middle of the American desert to find himself without a memory but with a newfangled gauntlet. Making his way to town, it soon becomes apparent that aliens from outer space have descended on a small town where everything was kept in check by Col. Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), a ruthless cattle rancher. It just so happens that Lonergan and Dolarhyde have a personal spat they have to set aside as Lonergan’s seemingly enchanted bracelet is the only weapon capable of fighting the saucer people and rescuing the wrangled town folk.
I’m not a fan of Craig and his too-tough-to-emote delivery. Pairing that with the musings of Olivia Wilde as Ella makes for some awkward early moments. Like quality screenplays before it, the questions raised by a lack of initial exposition do go answered, providing some method to the madness. Not to be outdone Harrison Ford has several bright moments, especially as the no nonsense taskmaster coupled with a boy (Noah Ringer) who has joined the posse to rescue his grandfather.
Director Jon Favreau makes a camp premise look like a true Hollywood summer release. Everything suggests a big adventure. The setting is unique, so there isn’t a question of having seen this before. With so many natural surroundings, the CGI needed for the flying wings of the alien ships and creature effects doesn’t appear excessive. The way people are whisked off into the sky is very believable. The score by Harry Gregson-Williams is mostly western in composition but with some modern elements to incorporate the feel of a sci-fi film; it’s not out of place.
Not all is perfect in the Wild West. Apparently this could have been titled Cowboys & Ninja Aliens due to their disappearing acts. You have to question their fascination with the young boy hanging with the cowboys, and the level of violence is a little thick by even recent PG-13 standards.
Cowboys & Aliens has the right mixture of intrigue and met expectations to be a successful summer blockbuster. I wouldn’t wagers that it grosses within even the top five, but unlike another movie out there you don’t have to tax you memory to make sense out of the wand waving. ***