MAJOR Spoiler Warning:
The history of mankind is riddled with tales of undermanned dark horses rising up, beating the odds and defeating a massive army of oppression. They’re inspirational stories that are so powerful that they bleed into all facets of entertainment from poetry, to writing, music, film and even sports. If history has taught us anything, it’s that when it comes to entertainment, we nearly always root for the underdog. This is the inherent problem of Jon Favreau’s Cowboys & Aliens, a lackluster tale of human survival that’s strung along by a serious of coincidences rather that good writing.
The film follows Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) who awakens with severe amnesia, and a metal device clamped to his wrist. He beats the sh*t out of some locals and rides into town in an attempt to backtrack who he is. He’s a wanted man, thus arrested and being shipped out of town. Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) is the rich and powerful man in the town. He is above the law, which is why his son Percy (Paul Dano) is such a piece of crap (he shoots up the town and accidently puts a bullet in local). Before Percy and Jake are shipped out, a handful of alien crafts appear and destroy the town, kidnapping half of the residence. Jake shoots down one of the ships leaving an alien creature bleeding off into the desert. The crew must band together to track the alien and save their family members from certain death.
The problems begin immediately with the device around Jake’s wrist. How is he able to use it? How did he get it? And more importantly, why is it so powerful? This immediately destroys the “underdog” tale as the audience quickly learns that Jake’s weapon is of equal power to the aliens’. And speaking to Jake’s ability to use this weapon without a manual, the film is riddled with illogical coincidences that beg the audience to have a huge suspension of disbelief. They quickly explain off aforementioned questions with “it [the device] knows what [Jake's character] is thinking,” which immediately adds more annoying questions (for example: If the device knows what Jake’s thinking, how does it understand English, especially if the alien creatures don’t speak the language?) The logic gaps are off the charts frustrating and bleed into each character’s mythology. The worst offense in Cowboys & Aliens is Olivia Wilde’s character whom, in a shocking twist, turns out to be a different alien out for revenge. Her character apparently can’t die, can change forms, knows how to use the alien technology, knows exactly where and how to kill the aliens, and even more shocking, how to turn the wrist device into massive detonators (like in Predator). Thinking about it even more, one can also ask: why is it just her, and where’s her clan? Is she the sole survivor?
Speaking if idiotic characters; when the town’s people, Indians and outlaws team together to fight the aliens, it’s stated that they have to enter battle in order to save the planet, yet, the exposition during the battle tells the audience otherwise, proclaiming that their sole intention is saving the human prisoners. Even more moronic is that they’d sacrifice hundreds in order to save just a handful of prisoners (one being that piece of crap son of Woodrow, Percy, whom when saved, is given the gift of sharing his dad’s fortune). What’s even more frustrating is watching the locals, Indians and outlaws bicker like bitches about their differences. There’s absolutely NO tension between the groups. ZERO.
Adding to the festivities is Favreau’s embarrassing inability to create space (in the middle of the desert, no less). Each group of humans appear to be “just around the bend,” and nobody ever appears to struggle through the heat of the desert. Showing that even less thought went into Cowboys & Aliens than the title itself, the guns in the movie have this weird lack of efficiently and effectiveness (they seem like toy guns), while wooden spears would decimate the sh*t out of aliens.
When you blend all of the problems together, it sheds the light on the point of my opening paragraph. At no point do the humans feel like underdogs, which kills any victory celebration for the viewer. Everything mentioned within this review accounts for reasons as to why it’s hard to root for the humans, and why you don’t care about any of them. Other than Craig’s ambient toughness, Cowboys & Aliens is a bland, faceless, callow, moronic, poorly assembled action movie that felt more like playing with plastic cowboys and Indians than shooting an actual gun. Cowboys & Aliens should be reserved for 9-year-olds and their parents who are looking to kill two hours before their park district soccer game.