James Bond and Indiana Jones team up to fight aliens in the old West. Should be pretty badass...right?
The answer to the above question is yes...to an extent. Cowboys and Aliens IS pretty badass to a certain degree, but it's not the kind of "wow" entertainment I've seen in other films this summer like TF3 or HP7, nor does it carry the storytelling capabilities of the likes of Super 8. Basically, Cowboys and Aliens is just a fun and unique concept that stops there. It doesn't reinvigorate or establish anything new to either genre (sci-fi and western) it belongs to, but it seems to be content with just the fact that it combines the two in an enjoyable way. And it does, so I really can't complain all that much.
The beginning of the film starts off as more than just enjoyable even. It resembles the first trailer that highlighted a more dark in nature film than what you might expect from a premise like this, and that's a good thing. Daniel Craig cements his character, Jake Lonergan, as a badass right from the get-go, and does it well, and Harrison Ford's Dollarhyde is equally as threatening but on the opposite side of the spectrum. As the movie progresses, we see these two characters soften up a little, which is also a good thing in terms of character progression. But as the characters change, so does the movie. By the end, it's lost most of its old West charm and badassery and has become more of a sci-fi action film. It's not exactly a bad thing, depending on who you are, but there is a noticeable difference. In the grand scheme of things, it still retains its violent undertones we saw in the beginning of the film, as aliens basically eat the humans in the final battle.
I credit the screenwriters and director Jon Favreau for making a movie that could have easily become campy into an entertaining 2-hours. Despite its premise, the only time it completely lost me to the point where I rolled my eyes was when it's revealed that Emma (smokin' hot Olivia Wilde) is an alien of a different race who's come to Earth to help the humans against the bad aliens that also destroyed her people...WTF? At that point, the movie was a wonderful mix of genres, but when that revelation was made it sort of lost some of the credibility it had managed to attain. Not to mention nobody seems to be completely confused or amazed or frightened or any other emotion. The girl just pulled a phoenix and literally rose from the ashes of her own body, but let's have a nice talk around the campfire. I mean, we all knew she would come back, but not like that.
In fact, the movie tends to be pretty predictable at points which is part of what holds it back from being more than just an entertaining premise. Despite this, however, you'll still want to hang around for the ride, even though you can probably guess where it'll take you.
On the acting front, as stated Craig and Ford are pretty badass. Craig is an amnesiac former outlaw that only seems how to remember to fight, while Ford is initially presented as the potential antagonist, as his first moment on screen sees him threatening a man tied between two horses. As the movie progresses, the two men learn to respect each other, as both are hardened fighters, one who was trying to lead a better life before he lost his memory, and the other who may come off as a heartless fiend, but ultimately means well. Wilde continues to climb up the Hollywood ranks, but her character in this film is rather cold and hard to feel for. Sam Rockewell's Doc on the other hand is the heart of the film and the character you ultimately can't help rooting for.
Visually, the film's pretty impressive and the action is done well, albeit minor pacing problems (which seems to be a continuing complaint among Favreau's action sequences)...but is it just me, or does every monster or alien look like the Cloverfield monster since the movie hit in 2008?
Overall, Cowboys and Aliens is a good summer film in a summer that is winding down to its end. There's only a couple films left, and it remains to be seen whether they'll receive good reviews or not. So, if all else fails, see Cowboys and Aliens. It's worth at least a watch, but it's not the definitive summer film, at least compared to what else we've seen.