Helmed by Iron Man 1 & 2 director Jon Favreau and starring Hollywood heavyweights Harrison Ford and 007 Daniel Craig alongside TRON: Legacy’s (2010) Olivia Wilde, Cowboys & Aliens (2011) comes to show us what could have happened if a bunch of belligerent extraterrestrials landed in the middle of the Wild West, where the fight is notoriously between cowboys and Native Americans rather than humans and creatures from outer space.
What happens when unidentified spaceships start attacking the Earth in a time where there’s no advanced technology, nor state-of-the-art armament à la Independence Day (1996) to fight back?
The idea, originally developed by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg in his Cowboy & Aliens graphic novel, is an interesting one, as it reworks the ever classic sci-fi theme of alien invasions and presents it through a different point of view.
Set in 1873, the story sees peculiar stranger Jake Lonergan (Craig) stumbling in the town of Absolution, Arizona, with seemingly no recollection of who he is and wearing a mysterious, technologically advanced shackle around his wrist. His appearance causes a stir with the locals, including the ruthless Colonel Dolarhyde (Ford) and the beautiful and enigmatic Ella Swenson (Wilde).
When the town starts getting attacked and upon discovering that his shackle has a connection with the spaceships and could hide the secret to fight the aliens and recover his lost memory, Jake joins the town’s cowboys in a challenging war against the menace from outer space.
Cowboys & Aliens is, in itself, quite a straightforward movie with a storyline which sees the cowboys and aliens from the title opposed in a clash of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ worth of the most classic of disaster movies. The Wild West setting makes it peculiar – and it’s a treat to fans of the mistreated Western genre – yet this peculiarity ends up getting lost halfway through, when the Wild West references become relegated to tongue-in-cheek antics and the sci-fi elements take over.
In favour of shape-shifting alien women and extraterrestrials with a penchant for otherworldly surgery and gold coins, the movie seems to forget that, really, humans in 1873 shouldn’t be so blasé when presented with alien phenomena.
Cowboys & Aliens is a sci-fi / adventure movie where entertainment (and suspension of disbelief) is the priority; and it’s well paced, whilst being neither innovative nor particularly clever. Mix this with a steel-faced Daniel Craig, a graceful – if inexpressive – Olivia Wilde and Harrison Ford in a role he can play with his eyes closed, and you’ll get a flick which is enjoyable enough – just don’t expect too much from it.