It’s not as bad as the reviews would lead you to believe, but it’s also not surprisingly great or anything. I found Cowboys & Aliens to be a fun ride when it wanted to be, and nothing more.
I, in fact, loved the first act of this film quite a bit. It starts off with all the western genre establishing of characters and settings. Even has a bit of mystery to it; wondering why Daniel Craig has the alien wristband on his arm and who he is and such. Though, it’s slightly bittersweet when they do such a good job establishing interesting characters, like Paul Dano’s snotty villain, and then they end up barely being in the movie. I was all for this movie in the beginning, pitting the humans against the humans, teaming the humans with the humans when the aliens show up, and ultimately going on an alien tracking mission to get back stolen townsfolk.
But then the middle happens. The second act of this film slightly killed any hope of it being great for me. I won’t ruin any twists here, but the Native American sequence of events just about destroyed any hope of, well, I’m actually feel a little silly saying this next sentence… but it destroyed any potential for a realistic movie about cowboys fighting aliens… I guess what I’m trying to say is that I would have rather just had the normal cowboy folk fighting the aliens without any twists, and without any strange Native American magic (they have memory potions…? c’mon…). The reveal about Olivia Wilde’s character also had me seeing question marks. Seemed rather unnecessary.
And then some logistics about the aliens came into play. Again I won’t say anything specific, but they are basically here to obtain a resource (like almost all alien invasion movies). They also don’t really explain why they want the resource, but they do make a funny joke about not understanding why they want it. And I just didn’t understand why they were also collecting humans. Never really fully explained, only partially explained, but then when you see the state of the humans they collected towards the end of the movie, the reasoning doesn’t make sense anymore. And the last annoying flaw from my memory right now, was revealing how Daniel Craig got the bracelet locked on his arm. It was… hmmmm… not that spectacular? And it only compiled on that further when a different species (humans) were able to harness its power for some reason. It appeared to be thought controlled, but how did Daniel Craig know that it would do all the cool things it did? Was he thinking, “Time to shoot some laser rockets!”, because I believe all historical evidence would indicate that cowboys from that era would not have a previous knowledge of what laser rockets were to begin with. And lastly, it was also kind of frustrating to realize that the simple weapon that he obtained also had such a significant impact on the solution to the alien problem. To me, they treated it during the movie as if it were the alien equivalent of a handgun, but then at the end it turns into some sort of god-like super weapon, that they NEED to solve everything. Up until the end, I kind of assumed there were a bunch of those wristbands laying all over the ship. Standard issue. I guess not.
But flaws aside, after a goofy second act, the third act picks up again. I was very entertained by the hand-to-hand combat between the cowboys and aliens during the final battle, it was pretty fun. And it seemed like the whole cast was having fun too. Just about every character was well cast, and they delivered on their performances (short of seeing Olivia Wilde nude… damn you PG-13, I was hoping for AT LEAST a butt shot). But, I never felt like it was ever a full-on western with aliens, or ever a full-on alien movie that takes place in the old west. I guess I’m saying I don’t believe it ever really found what it truly wanted to be. It’s good summer entertainment, for sure, but I’d recommend Captain America over it if you haven’t seen either. Cowboys & Aliens certainly isn’t great, and is actually a slight disappointment, but it’s definitely watchable. You won’t regret spending $8 to see it, but you’ll probably leave the theater wishing it were a little better. I don’t know how many more ways I can say the same thing. It’s alright.
6 out of 10