Cowboys And Aliens review

Banana Rating: 3 out of 5

Although based on a comic book, the idea for the film came first, the then unre­leased comic being part of the ori­ginal pitch to Hol­ly­wood execs. I sup­pose, a rough story­board that you could actu­ally buy in the shops. I’ve not read the comic, nor had I heard of it before see­ing the film. This isn’t a Mar­vel movie with fifty years worth of her­it­age to draw on. But then, call­ing a film “Cow­boys & Ali­ens” tells us all we need to know. It’s a clever idea, cre­at­ing a comic purely as bait for movie rights.

It starts with the old­est of clichés: amne­sia. Daniel Craig wakes up in the middle of the desert, his memory of the last few weeks gone AWOL, with what looks like a Pip-Boy from Fal­lout 3 attached to his wrist. All attempts to remove the Pip-Boy prove futile. And then it starts bleep­ing. Always a bad sign when things start bleep­ing, and through­out the film, its sud­den activ­a­tion acts as a handy sig­nal that the ali­ens are, more often than not, about to appear over the horizon.

In the first third of the story, Craig is prob­ably at his worst, hampered by play­ing the archetypal lone stranger, famil­iar to us from a mil­lion west­erns. When dis­arm­ing a gang of cut­throats with insur­mount­able ease, he looks undeni­ably cool. Unfor­tu­nately, when Craig has little to say, and tries to look tough, mean, and moody, he slips into his pouty “Blue Steel” style of act­ing. Ini­tially, he’s not exactly the world’s most believ­able cow­boy. Com­pared to the rest of the cast, he looks a bit too clean-cut, a bit too ripped from his days as Bond. His being an Eng­lish­man lends him the air of someone just pre­tend­ing to be a cow­boy. Thank­fully, as he regains his memory, and starts speak­ing, he appears to relax into the role, and become more convincing.

It helps that he’s sur­roun­ded by a great bunch of sup­port­ing act­ors. Har­rison Ford has only ever done one west­ern (The Frisco Kid) before this. He’s prob­ably about the right age now though, his older, some­what crumpled face look­ing more lived in, like he’s been mov­ing horse and cattle all his life on the great open plains. Sold in the trail­ers as a bad guy, he proves to be more com­plic­ated as the story pro­gresses. Depend­able act­ors such as Sam Rock­well, Clancy Brown, Walton Gog­gins, Keith Car­radine, and Paul Dano (the lat­ter pair in smal­ler roles) never take the lime­light off the three main stars, but make their pres­ence felt. Olivia Wilde looks almost impossibly scrubbed up to be an authen­tic cow­girl, but her char­ac­ter arc goes some way to explain­ing this.

On its release, expect­a­tions were for a fun­nier, more throwaway film. I can see why. Reason num­ber one: the title. Reason num­ber two: the source mater­ial, which judging by the bits of the comic I’ve seen (a quick image search on t’internet), is big, bold, col­or­ful, and almost like Mars Attacks! in its depic­tion of cow­boys being fried by alien laser fire.

The idea of ali­ens invad­ing the Wild West feels inher­ently silly, yet the film mostly avoids wink­ing at us after every quip, after every death-defying escape from danger, which I don’t think is such a bad thing. After all, there’s no reason present day Earth should have a mono­poly on ser­i­ous, high stakes alien inva­sion. Ali­ens were prob­ably invent­ing TV that could be pro­jec­ted into their brains with a banana fla­voured holo­gram, whilst we were all still rolling around in shit dur­ing the stone age. Why should they hang about until the spe­cial FX of Earth have caught up, before launch­ing an attack? And cow­boys don’t need to be mak­ing funny jokes every time they kill an alien.

I’m thank­ful in a way. Oth­er­wise, it could have had the poten­tial to be another (wicky wicky) Wild Wild West. And we all know what a dis­aster that turned out to be.