With my good school buddy Simon from Wiltshire over for a weekend visit I had a busy Sunday entertaining that took us to the Natural History Museum and Hyde Park. Inevitably the road guided us to the cinema where we considered The Inbetweeners Movie but the lure of a movie promising the unlikely pairing of Wild West tough men and visitors from outer space starring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford no less was too hard to resist.
Craig plays a man who wakes in the western frontier with a weird metal bracelet on his wrist and a wounded side instead of a memory. After punching his way through a gang of opportunists figuring he’s a wanted man with a bounty on his head he winds up in the decidedly one-horse town Absolution where he soon finds himself altercating with the obnoxious Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano) the son of the town’s cattle running patriarch (Ford) but the ensuing feud is interrupted when a fleet of none too friendly spacecraft swoop in and lasso half of the inhabitants of the town.
As setups go this one is not the subtlest, something reflected by the very literal title which might not do the film too many favours. Yes the film contains both cowboys and aliens, yes that is a silly idea but director Jon Favreau doesn’t quite see it that way. Far from being tongue in cheek Cowboys & Aliens feels gritty and hard-edged, violent and serious, the few jokes character based as opposed to the Will Smith ‘Welcome to Earth’ approach. The result is that many cinemagoers expecting a giggle might be disappointed which perhaps reflects the film’s poor box office takings but it works as a straight up action adventure too.
The plot unfolds in linear fashion as a posse sets out to reclaim their stolen loved ones experiencing regular encounters with both aliens and bandits. There’s a degree of mystery driving it along as Craig’s character slowly rediscovers his identity and in the form of Olivia Wilde’s enigmatic Ella. The former never delivers much by way of twist but Wilde’s character at least takes the plot to unexpected territory. The rest is all Craig being tough and it’s fun but not as fun as it could be.
Craig brings his Bond experience to several action beats and is as convincing as you’d expect but he never has any really meaty moments in the script or set pieces to get stuck into. Meanwhile Ford growls his way through the film playing a seemingly less moral character than you’d expect but behind his rough exterior you sense beats a heart of gold. The two play off each other nicely but don’t have any obvious chemistry.
Cowboys & Aliens is a blockbuster but an underwhelming one. The action is fine, the special effects good, the performances decent, the story okay and that tells you all you need to know. It’s okay but no more. Worth a watch but don’t rush to the cinema.
Promising a big show with top stars Cowboys & Aliens disappoints with its moderate results that leave you never less than entertained but will struggle to truly enrapture.