Favreau fails to inject any amount of fun into this western meets science fiction mash up. On paper this film should work; it has a strong cast including the man who played Han Solo, Harrison Ford and the current James Bond, Daniel Craig. It has an original premise with a lot of potential for creativeness to shine, but somehow it manages to be boring. A disappointing offering from director Jon Favreau, who is yet to reach the same high standard he managed in the first instalment of Iron Man.
When aliens attack Earth and abduct the innocent inhabitants of Absolution, a group of locals team up and form a posse to get them back. The strapping Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) leads the charge on this rescue mission along with cattle ranch owner Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), enigmatic Ella Swansen (Olivia Wilde) and the local bar owner Doc (Sam Rockwell).
The main problem with this film is that it doesn’t achieve the mood of a great western film or offer enough development of the alien presence to reach the levels of solid science fiction. There are some redeeming qualities though, the metal bracelet attached to Jake Lonergan’s arm offers a wealth of cool special effects and there is an excellent battle scene that reveals some extra alien assets but overall it is lacking severely in terms of character development and tension. The tone is much darker than the title would suggest and the focus is mostly on the western side of the tale.
The performances are all pretty solid; Sam Rockwell provides some comic relief by being the one man in the Wild West who can’t use a gun, Olivia Wilde is a welcome female presence who can hold her own, and the young Noah Ringer (The Last Airbender) plays the wide-eyed kid in the troupe with flair. Paul Dano makes an appearance as the spoilt brat son of Woodrow Dolarhyde who takes on the mysterious Lonergan in an act of arrogance. The strength of the opening act of the film, where the coward takes on the cool, fits in with the western styling and gave the film an intriguing and attention-grabbing beginning. Unfortunately it just didn’t continue throughout as it loses pace with a rambling sequence through miles of desert.
It looks as a western should – full of cattle, swinging saloon doors and a whole lot of horses - and delivers on the witty banter between the characters, but the pacing and the way the story plays out overall is jagged. Nothing seems to flow that well, one moment you are holding your breath at an alien abduction and the next the characters kind of shrug the whole thing off and you are left feeling deflated. The reactions of the characters are not emotionally engaging enough to warrant any real investment in caring about what happens to them.
The set pieces are immense and are pretty impressive to watch on the big screen and all the actors are suitably attired in authentic looking garb, it’s just a shame the actual film lacks that certain spark needed to connect with its audience. The cowboys and aliens interaction is minimal with one major battle scene being the most contact they have. The focus is on the humans and their quest to save the world from destruction. This leads to the generic go-to reason for the alien attack on Earth, and a deficient amount of time being spent on developing the alien presence. Imagination is lacking in their appearance also, with the usual H.R. Giger inspired replicas being churned out.
Scott Mitchell Rosenberg of Platinum Studios fame penned the graphic novel on which this was based but he doesn’t appear to have had a hand in the screenplay. Instead of being innovative with the source material Favreau and his band of writers (six in total, including Robert Orci who was a part of the team responsible for the fabulous Star Trek reboot) turn this into a hackneyed, boring and unsatisfying watch.
Expected rating: 8
Cowboys & Aliens is released in the UK on August 17th