Saturday, July 30, 2011

"Pistols and Probes" My Review of Cowboys and Aliens

Before I begin this review I'd like to warn you that it will be SPOILER filled. So if you haven't seen the film and don't want it getting ruined don't read it. You have been warned.

The title of the film says it all: it's a movie with cowboys and aliens and they're gonna be fighting. However, that is merely the surface of this film. When you actually sit down and watch it, with its insides all there for you to see, you find a very effective, very satisfying, and ultimately very entertaining movie. Jon Favreau really hit it out of the ballpark with this one. While I loved his work on the Iron Man films, they always felt too "popcorn movie" to me, focusing more on the spectacle and pratfalls and very little on character (Iron Man 2 really suffered from this as Tony Stark's alcoholism, I felt, was downplayed too much in favor of gags like Iron Man in the Donut). However, here he finds the right balance in all the themes and tones, cranking out probably the best summer flick I've seen so far this summer (and I haven't seen a lot of summer movies which makes you wonder...). I'm going to go ahead and say that Cowboys and Aliens is worth watching at full price. I say this because in a world full of crappy remakes, soulless sequels, and the Battleship movie, Cowboys and Aliens manages to do one thing that other films have recently failed at accomplishing: making me care about the characters and the story.
The cast here is solid, boasting a number of well known actors and actresses ranging from James Bond to Indiana Jones. Daniel Craig practically owns the role of Jake Lonergan, our amnesiac protagonist, and continues to prove himself as a great leading man. When not being a total badass he practically oozes rogue-ish charm. Harrison Ford showed his menacing side in his role as Colonel Dolarhyde, a bitter war veteran who finds himself teaming up with his rival Jake. Seeing Ford in a cowboy hat riding around on a horse kept instilling in my mind images of Indiana Jones (except in this movie the aliens were a welcome addition) however I did find myself liking his scenes more and more over the course of the film.
Olivia Wilde, as always, sizzles in every frame of film she's in. You can't go wrong with her when you want to cast an unbelievably attractive woman. Which is why I found myself not looking forward to her since I knew she was cast. I have nothing against her (sadly), I just felt that considering this was a wild west flick that a more "realistic" actress should've been cast. However as the film progresses we find out how such an amazingly attractive woman managed to stay so attractive in the wild west: it turns out she's an alien in human form trying to help out the Cowboys so technically the fact that she doesn't fit in with the setting makes sense (If I were an alien who could choose any form I wanted I'd choose Olivia Wilde too). However her back story is so thinly established that I found myself wanting to know more about her. Alas, we only had two hours to fill.
The supporting cast is also top notch. You have Sam Rockwell as "Doc" a geeky looking saloon owner with a smoking hot wife who has a few good moments in the film (his arc revolves around learning how to shoot a gun which has a great payoff in the end). Clancy Brown plays a Preacher and you can never go wrong with a little Clancy Brown in your movie. Adam Beach plays Dolarhyde's right hand man Nat Colorado, who looks up to the Colonel like a father. There are a few others such as Walton Goggins as one of Lonergan's gang members who has a few hilarious scenes but most of them are short lived.
However, I was so drawn into these characters' plight that I cared about them. You do get invested in the characters as they search for the other titular characters of the film: the Aliens. While I can't say the Aliens of the film aren't the most radically original creatures I've ever seen, they served their purpose as the antagonists and actually managed to feel threatening. However there were a few things that did vex me about the aliens.
Such as their reluctance to carry laser guns. About a quarter of the aliens in the movie are actually seen using their space-y weaponry while most parade around with nothing but their fists (or claws in this case) to use in fighting the respectably armed Cowboys. There is a part in the movie where Olivia Wilde explains that the aliens are overconfident and that they see the cowboys as nothing but insects. While this makes sense in the context of the story (and also makes the aliens easier to beat) I can't help but poke holes in this tried and true loophole in alien attack flicks. You see, I see insects as insects, like the aliens see cowboys as insects. However, unlike the aliens, if I had to choose between stomping out a bunch of ants that were carrying six shooters and rifles with my feet or with my brand spanking new Bug-zapomatic 9000 I'd choose the Bug-zapomatic every time. Not because I don't underestimate the potential threat the ants pose but because I have a friggin awesome bug killing device that will always be ten times more effective than my foot alone. Plus it saves me from having to do anything beyond pressing a few buttons. Perhaps I'm just lazy, if so then these aliens were fucking motivated.
However, these things are minor nit picking on my part to make my snark quota for the review. In the end I loved this movie. It managed to find the right mix of western and alien invasion without going overboard too much. Sure it allowed itself to indulge in the usual cliches found in other films like it (like the townsfolk thinking the aliens were demons) however it's approach to the character's reactions to being under attack by space aliens felt believable and didn't bog down the narrative.
Ultimately this movie just down right rocked and I recommend you go see it.
I give Cowboys and Aliens four wanted posters out of five for its awesome handling of western and sci fi elements as well as for it's amazing cast and story.

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